Lufthansa to swallow lion's share of Air Berlin's planes

Berlin (AFP) –


Germany's biggest airline Lufthansa will buy up more than half of the aircraft of its bankrupt competitor Air Berlin, chief executive Carsten Spohr said Thursday.

On a "great day" for the Frankfurt-based carrier, it will sign a contract to buy 81 of Air Berlin's 144 planes and take on 3,000 of its 8,500 staff at noon (1000 GMT) Thursday, Spohr said -- the last day for bidders Lufthansa and Easyjet to close their hoped-for deals.

So far there has been no sign of an agreement between Air Berlin and Easyjet for remaining parts of the business, nor has Lufthansa announced how much it will pay under the deal.

German media have reported in recent weeks that the yellow-and-blue-liveried carrier could pay as much as 300 million euros ($356 million) for around 80 planes -- a figure Spohr cited as the largest competition authorities would accept Lufthansa grabbing.

The agreement will need a green light from European authorities in a process that could take "several weeks or months," Air Berlin chief executive Thomas Winkelmann said last week.

Meanwhile, unions have complained that many of Air Berlin's staff face an uncertain future, with no guarantee they will find work with the buyer firms once the company is wound up -- despite promises when talks with Lufthansa and Easyjet began that most would find jobs with the bidders.

Air Berlin triggered bankruptcy proceedings in August after losing a cash lifeline from its biggest shareholder Etihad Airways.

Its aircraft have been kept aloft by a 150-million-euro ($178 million) emergency loan from the German government while details of the breakup were worked out.

But the pressure was on to reach a deal this week, as Air Berlin's planes will no longer be allowed to fly after October 28 under insolvency rules.