Lufthansa gives up on buying Austria's Niki

Frankfurt am Main (AFP) –


German airline behemoth Lufthansa on Wednesday gave up plans to buy Austrian carrier Niki as it battles to convince Brussels its takeover of bankrupt Air Berlin will not harm competition in Europe's skies.

"Lufthansa informed Air Berlin and its insolvency managers that it will pursue the planned transaction without the purchase of Niki," the airline said in a statement.

The European Commission said last week it had "deep competition concerns" about the Frankfurt-based carrier's hoped-for buyout of 81 aircraft from Air Berlin's 140-strong fleet plus Niki for 210 million euros ($250 million).

Lufthansa had already offered to give up many of the precious takeoff and landing slots it originally wanted under the deal.

But "the Commission saw this step as unsatisfactory and signalled clearly that it could not allow taking over and integrating Niki into the Eurowings group," Lufthansa's low-cost subsidiary, the firm said.

The German firm also offered to give up further slots belonging to Air Berlin subsidiary LGW.

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

Its aircraft were kept aloft by a 150-million-euro emergency loan from the German government while it negotiated the sale of its assets.

Since the October deal the Commission has allowed Lufthansa to operate some of Air Berlin's planes to make sure there was no short-term negative impact on travellers.

Niki's aircraft have continued to fly as it is not subject to the same bankruptcy conditions as Air Berlin.

Wednesday's decision by Lufthansa could pitch the airline into financial turbulence as it loses bridge financing from the German giant.

Air Berlin said in a statement Tuesday that prospective buyers IAG had withdrawn their interest in Niki, while there was also no workable offer from Thomas Cook, leaving Lufthansa as the group's only option for sale.