February 7, 2018 / 5:20 PM / 10 months ago

UPDATE 1-Lufthansa starts 2018 with new livery, strong ticket sales

* CEO speaking at unveiling of new branding

* Confirms 2017 profit will be better than 2016's record

* Focus on premium brands, growth at Eurowings in 2018

* Says Brussels Airlines to retain "Belgian-ness" (Adds further comments on Brussels Airlines, Air Berlin, branding)

FRANKFURT, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Lufthansa has had a strong start to the year for ticket sales, the group's chief executive said on Wednesday, also confirming that 2017 was a record year for the airline in terms of profit.

"The booking situation in the first months of this year has been good," Carsten Spohr told journalists at an event to unveil a new look for the group's namesake brand.

Spohr said the focus this year would be on its premium strategy at Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian airlines, plus rapidly growing budget arm Eurowings to fill the gap left by insolvent German rival Air Berlin.

Lufthansa's 2017 core profit target was to earn more than the 2016 record total of 1.75 billion euros ($2.15 billion). Lufthansa reports 2017 results on March 15.

Lufthansa took control of Brussels Airlines, the Belgian national flag carrier, in late 2016, and following reports of a management shake-up this week, business leaders and unions in Belgium questioned whether jobs, as well as destinations from the Belgian capital, especially to Africa, could be affected should Lufthansa merge Brussels into Eurowings.

Lufthansa said earlier on Wednesday that Brussels Airlines would be in charge of coordinating long-haul operations at its Eurowings budget arm in Brussels, Duesseldorf and Munich.

Spohr said Brussels Airlines would retain a "Belgian-ness" while working within the Eurowings unit and that the brand would not disappear into Eurowings.

"We believe we have a very strong brand and we want to join it up with Eurowings to get the best out of both of them," he said.

Alitalia is also looking for buyers but Spohr said Lufthansa was only interested in buying the ailing Italian flag carrier if it could be restructured and that there was little sign of that happening at present.

Lufthansa's new dark blue plane livery, unveiled on Wednesday, has caused much debate on social media after it was leaked last week, with some calling it boring and mourning the loss of the distinctive yellow colour from the crane logo on the tail of the aircraft.

Spohr highlighted that the "melon yellow" would remain on areas such as accessories, amenity kits, blankets and uniforms.

"I would be sad if such a change didn't lead to emotional discussions," he said. ($1 = 0.8134 euros) (Reporting by Victoria Bryan and Ilona Wissenbach; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Jane Merriman)

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