European Union clears easyJet purchase of Air Berlin's assets

Andrew Cummings
December 13, 2017

Niki airline - founded by former Formula One champion Niki Lauda - is still part of insolvent carrier Air Berlin, which went bankrupt in August after losing a cash lifeline from its biggest shareholder Etihad Airways.

"We have quite deep competition concerns because there is a risk that on some routes Lufthansa becomes de facto a monopoly", European Union competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said at a news conference.

A court in Berlin said Wednesday that Niki had filed for bankruptcy protection, with the Austrian airline seeking to carry out insolvency procedures under its own administration.

Lufthansa said it had offered to give up slots but the Commission "considers this to be insufficient" and clearly indicated that it wouldn't now approve the acquisition of Niki.

Air Berlin ended operations in late October, though Austria-based Niki continued flying.

Lufthansa said it still planned to buy Air Berlin subsidiary LGW and would submit a revised proposal, including foregoing slots, to the Commission on Wednesday. Meanwhile, however, the airline's founder, Niki Lauda, said on Wednesday that he was "still interested" in buying Niki.

The current uncertainty for Niki employees and passengers was the result of Air Berlin's insolvency, it stressed, as well as Lufthansa's decision to drop the transaction.

Lufthansa said on Wednesday it still meant to pursue growth plans for its Eurowings budget subsidiary and would apply for any Niki slots that become free in the event of an insolvency.

EasyJet said it expects to complete the transaction "in the near future".

The government said it expected only part of the loan could now be repaid and it would take steps to minimise losses for taxpayers.

EasyJet, which now operates flights to and from Berlin's Schoenefeld airport, plans to start using the more central Tegel airport as well from next month following the Air Berlin deal. That would leave the German government almost 100 million euros short.

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