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Former F1 champion Niki Lauda eyes parts of Air Berlin

Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest airline, filed for insolvency last month after major shareholder Etihad withdrew funding following years of losses. (Reuters)
VIENNA/BERLIN: Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda said he has partnered with German airline Condor in a bid worth around €100 million for 38 Air Berlin leased aircraft.
Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest airline, filed for insolvency last month after major shareholder Etihad withdrew funding following years of losses.
Administrators are now seeking investors for the business, with bids due by Friday and a decision planned on September 21.
Most potential investors are seen being interested primarily in Air Berlin’s roughly 140 leased aircraft and its airport slots rather than its operating business or employees.
Lauda holds 51 percent of a consortium with Thomas Cook subsidiary Condor which will bid for 21 leased Airbus A320 and A321 planes at Air Berlin subsidiary Niki – which Lauda once owned – and 17 Air Berlin aircraft, he told Austrian newspaper Kurier on Wednesday.
Asked how much he was willing to pay, Lauda told ORF radio on Thursday: “It depends very much on how the details are defined, but we are now offering around €100 million.”
Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser declined to comment. The company has previously said it was looking to play an active role in the Air Berlin process.
Two sources close to Condor cautioned however that no joint bid had been submitted. One of them said such an offer was unlikely to materialize.
The other source said that Condor remained interested in a double-digit number of planes, including ones for long-haul routes.
Austrian-based Niki has lower costs than Air Berlin and earlier this year it took over flying popular routes from Germany to tourist destinations in Spain.
Lauda and Condor would face competition from Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline.
Lufthansa plans to make an offer for up to 90 planes, including Niki’s fleet and 38 crewed planes it already leases from Air Berlin, a source told Reuters.
British budget carrier easyJet is also reportedly interested in up to 40 planes, previous reports have said. Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Thursday that easyJet was interested in Air Berlin’s regional unit Luftfahrtgesellschaft Walter (LGW), without specifying its sources.
LGW currently operates 20 smaller Bombardier planes and its operating certificate is being changed so that it can fly the A320s used by easyJet, the newspaper said. The British carrier was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
Other interested parties include aviation investor Hans Rudolf Woehrl, who says he has submitted a bid for the whole of Air Berlin, while German family-owned logistics company Zeitfracht and China’s LinkGlobal Logistics have also expressed interest.
Air Berlin’s flight operations were disrupted earlier this week after pilots called in sick, in what was seen as a protest about job uncertainty, potentially complicating efforts to rescue the carrier.
Management, unions and politicians all called on the pilots to return to work to ensure talks with bidders could be completed. Air Berlin expects normal operations on Thursday, a spokeswoman said.

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