Ryanair could buy all or part of Air Berlin but has so far been ignored by the ailing carrier, according to Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary, who said Wednesday he’s concerned the company will be handed to Deutsche Lufthansa AG in an anti-competitive, all-German deal.
While Ryanair has generally eschewed takeovers and pursued market share through organic growth and cut-price fares, an exception could be made for Air Berlin given its strong position in Europe’s largest economy, O’Leary said. He didn’t comment on whether Ryanair has any interest in its long-haul routes.
“There are not that many carriers with 25 percent of the German market that have come up for sale,” O’Leary said in an interview. “There are lots of other airlines that would be interested in Air Berlin if this was an arms-length, transparent bankruptcy. But it’s very far from that.”
Air Berlin, which began flying out of West Berlin in 1978 and listed in 2006, announced it was filing for insolvency on Aug. 15 after Etihad Airways PJSC, its largest shareholder, ended financial support. The German carrier has racked up more than 2.7 billion euros ($3.2 billion) of losses in a little over six years.
O’Leary said he’s concerned that politicians are seeking to rush through a deal with Lufthansa, where Air Berlin CEO Thomas Winkelmann worked for 18 years, before Germany’s general election and queried whether the company needs a 150 million-euro loan at the height of the profitable summer season.
The handling of Air Berlin’s insolvency contrasts with the bankruptcy of Alitalia SpA, where “everyone is able to make a binding offer,” O’Leary said. “What’s happening in Germany is the absolute opposite.”
The CEO said he’s skeptical about reports that Air Berlin’s data room has been opened to 10 airlines since it indicated in May that it needed a partner, and that Ryanair hasn’t been granted access. German airline entrepreneur Hans Rudolf Woehrl said Wednesday that “until today,” Air Berlin hadn’t responded to an expression of interest from his Intro Aviation, or provided data access.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said last week he’s ready to take large numbers of Air Berlin employees, though on revised contracts. An outright merger would lift his company’s market share to 95 percent from 68 percent on domestic routes and to 60 percent from 47 percent overall, according to Ryanair. Lufthansa has said it’s interested in about half of Air Berlin’s operations.
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