Ryanair targets landing rights vacated Air Berlin

By Richard Weiss

Ryanair is targeting landing rights vacated by failed carrier Air Berlin’s Niki arm after Lufthansa called off a planned takeover of the Austrian leisure carrier.

Ryanair — which is facing the prospect of pilot strikes at its main European bases including in Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Portugal — will seek the slots as Niki grounds its planes in the wake of Lufthansa’s decision.

Niki has stopped flying “for the time being,” the airline said after becoming the latest part of Air Berlin to file for insolvency.

The move stranded thousands of travellers and will disrupt plans for hundreds of thousands more, while creating an opportunity for rivals including Ryanair, which shunned the original bid process after saying it would be loaded in favour of Lufthansa.

Air Berlin’s administrators confirmed that it will now stage a fire-sale process to get the most money from Niki. Thomas Cook, which lost out in the initial auction, is still interested as it mulls options for expansion in the German market.

Niki’s value lies in its landing rights, which may now be sold separately rather than as part of the wider airline operation, making a purchase less risky for investors.

EasyJet has already won EU antitrust clearance to buy some Air Berlin aircraft serving the German capital. While Lufthansa dropped its bid for Niki, which has about 20 jets, amid pushback from the regulator, it is still seeking approval to acquire regional carrier LGW, with about the same amount of turboprop planes.

The EU said it is still reviewing that proposal ahead of a December 21 deadline for deciding whether to order an extended probe.

Lufthansa can also expect to win a significant number of slots via the usual distribution process.

Lufthansa scrapped its bid after EU antitrust officials raised concerns about the likely impact of the deal on competition, and indicated that proposed slot surrenders were insufficient.

Lufthansa was seeking to acquire 81 Air Berlin aircraft, including about 20 planes from Niki, which was acquired by Air Berlin in stages between 2004 and 2010 and has almost 1,000 employees.

Airlines including Lufthansa, TUIfly and Thomas Cook’s German Condor unit have, meanwhile, offered 50% fare reductions to stranded Niki passengers.


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