Deutsche Lufthansa AG and EasyJet Plc were selected as the preferred bidders for the main assets of insolvent Air Berlin Plc, handing both airlines a rare chance to rapidly expand in Europe’s biggest economy.
The creditors’ committee will continue talks with the two carriers until Oct. 12 with the aim of selling Air Berlin’s transport assets, the company said in a statement late Thursday. Talks with bidders interested in other assets will continue in parallel, Air Berlin said. Neither Lufthansa nor EasyJet had bid for the whole company, making a break-up inevitable.
Lufthansa had bid for Air Berlin’s leisure arm Niki, plus 38 jets it already leases from the carrier, Chief Executive Officer Carsten Spohr told journalists on Wednesday. That would hand Germany’s largest airline 73 single-aisle aircraft from its rival, about half of Air Berlin’s fleet and close to the maximum Spohr said he’d be allowed to add without violating antitrust rules.
EasyJet was interested in unspecified other assets. The low-cost specialist had earlier said it is interested in “parts” of Air Berlin’s short-haul business, without being more specific.
That creates uncertainty about Air Berlin’s long-haul fleet, including 17 Airbus SE A330s. EasyJet doesn’t fly such planes and Lufthansa has said it isn’t interested in the aircraft, even as it seeks to expand the long-haul operation of its budget Eurowings unit.
Niki’s fleet includes 21 Airbus SE A321 jets flown out of Dusseldorf and Vienna, plus 14 Boeing Co. 737s that it’s leasing under a long-term contract with TUI AG’s German airline TUIfly. Those 14 aircraft may be split between TUIfly and Eurowings, which will likely operate the bulk of the aircraft Lufthansa is eventually awarded, people familiar with the talks told Bloomberg earlier. Air Berlin’s remaining short-haul aircraft are mostly A320-family jets, fitting both Eurowings’ and EasyJet’s fleets.
Air Berlin’s creditors met Thursday to review bids also from IAG SA and an alliance of Thomas Cook Plc’s Condor unit and former Formula 1 racing champion Niki Lauda. Air Berlin was forced into insolvency in August after main investor Etihad Airways PJSC pulled funding amid persistent losses.
Lufthansa plans to give about 3,000 of Air Berlin’s more than 8,000 employees a job, Spohr said Wednesday. Under German insolvency law, employment prospects for staff are among the key criteria. Even if Lufthansa fails to secure the Air Berlin assets, the company will still seek to expand, Spohr said.
“We believe Air Berlin will exit the market,” Spohr said. “That means we will be able to grow by another 20 to 40 aircraft. The next days will show if that will be organic growth or with a transaction involving Air Berlin.”
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