Ryanair Holdings is targeting landing rights vacated by Air Berlin Plc’s Niki arm after Deutsche Lufthansa called off a planned takeover of the Austrian leisure carrier.
Ryanair, Europe’s biggest discount airline, will seek the slots as Niki grounds its planes in the wake of Lufthansa’s decision, spokesman Robin Kiely said Thursday (December 14) in response to questions from Bloomberg.
Niki has stopped flying “for the time being,” it said in a statement after becoming the latest part of Air Berlin to file for insolvency. The move will strand thousands of travelers and disrupt the plans of 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 favor of Lufthansa.
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U.K. discounter EasyJet Plc has already secured antitrust approval to take over some Air Berlin aircraft in the German capital, while Lufthansa itself can expect to win a significant number of slots via the usual distribution process.
Airlines including Lufthansa and Thomas Cook Group Plc’s German Condor unit have meanwhile offered 50% fare reductions to stranded Niki passengers. People prepared to wait at the airport for a seat will also be brought home for free, Condor said, though those who traveled on package tours may be covered by an industry repatriation plan, and others with full travel insurance will get any extra costs refunded.
Austria will also charter planes to bring passengers back to the country if necessary, a spokesman for acting transport minister Joerg Leichtfried said.
Niki, founded by Formula One racing champion Niki Lauda, had been kept going through a combination of €10 million in weekly support from Lufthansa and a €150 million government loan granted to Air Berlin in August to prevent a wholesale grounding of flights.
Lufthansa scrapped its bid on Wednesday (December 13) after European Union 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.
The grounding adds to air-travel disruption across Europe in the run up to Christmas after Air Berlin ceased its own flights in October, weeks after U.K.-based Monarch Airlines Ltd. also folded. Ryanair was forced to cancel 20,000 flights when a crew-rostering issue left it short of pilots, and now faces a succession of strikes at several European bases as staff push for unionization.
Lufthansa said Wednesday (December 13) that it will now seek to expand its Eurowings discount brand without acquisitions, while continuing to pursue the purchase of Air Berlin turboprop division LGW. The EU said it’s still reviewing that proposal ahead of a December 21 deadline for deciding whether to order an extended probe.
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland