Air Berlin and Etihad Airways have united in rejecting a report that the head of the German carrier is to step down under pressure from Etihad chief executive James Hogan.

Etihad dismissed the report, in Germany’s Manager Magazin, as unfounded and demanded a retraction. The Middle East carrier holds a 30% stake in Air Berlin and Hogan is vice-chairman of the Air Berlin board.

Manager Magazin reported Hogan had lost confidence in Air Berlin chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn and called for his immediate replacement.

Etihad said in a statement it had written “requesting a retraction and apology for these inaccurate, damaging and unfounded allegations”.

The carrier said: “These statements are entirely unsubstantiated . . and appear to be designed to damage Air Berlin and Etihad Airways businesses. No one from this publication contacted Etihad Airways or Air Berlin to verify these statements. If they had done so, we would have refuted them as unsubstantiated nonsense.”

Both Etihad and Air Berlin did confirm: “There is an ongoing search for Mr Mehrdorn’s replacement, but this is part of normal succession planning as his contract expires in 2013.”

The Etihad statement added: “As a majority shareholder, Etihad Airways fully supports Mr Mehrdorn and the Air Berlin team in what is an extremely difficult environment for European airlines.”

The Air Berlin board issued a statement saying: “The entire board stands firmly behind Hartmut Mehrdorn and the Air Berlin management team.”

It confirmed “an executive search process is being conducted, due to the fact that Mehrdorn’s contract will expire in 2013.”