Jan.07 - Hartmut Mehdorn has stepped down as CEO of Air Berlin, passing on the task of bringing Germany's second largest airline back to profit. That may be complicated by the news of further delays to Berlin's long-awaited new airport. Joanna Partridge reports
He went from trains to planes - now Hartmut Mehdorn is stepping down as Air Berlin CEO. The one-time boss of Deutsche Bahn took the top job at Germany's second-biggest airline on an interim basis in September 2011. Mehdorn introduced tough cost cutting at the loss-making carrier and brought in Gulf airline Ethihad as a major investor. He now hands the task of guiding Air Berlin back to profit to its strategy chief Wolfgang Prock-Schauer. Air Berlin's results have been as red as its livery since 2007 - when it expanded fast and got heavily into debt. Adding to its troubles is the news the opening of Berlin's new airport will be delayed again until at least 2014. Mehdorn has previously called the postponement a "catastrophe". Frankfurt trader Robert Halver says he imagines the delay may have played a role in Mehdorn's departure. SOUNDBITE: Robert Halver, Baader Bank Trader, saying (German): "I think he is extremely angry about what is happening in Berlin. Air Berlin would like to use the new airport as their main airport and Mr Mehdorn is known for acting consequentially. I hope many German industry managers and politicians will also show the consequences of this in the future." Berlin-Brandenburg airport was due to open in October. It's already been postponed several times for various reasons, including fire safety systems. The delays have been a headache for Air Berlin, which plans to use the airport as a hub for its profitable intercontinental flights. Green Party politician Ramona Pop also says they've made Berlin a laughing stock. SOUNDBITE: Ramona Pop, Chairman of Green Party parliamentary group, saying (German): "Another delay until who knows when will further damage our image. It's going to take a long time to re-establish trust in our city and Berlin's mayor, after he completely destroyed it. There's also considerable financial damage, already 1.2 billion euros in additional costs, and the airport construction costs have doubled." Many are calling for heads to roll. The repeated delays have certainly tarnished the image of Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who sits on the airport board and made it his flagship project. And it's another problem for Air Berlin's new leadership to contend with - along with cutting more costs and returning to profit.