BERLIN: Friday brings a moment of truth for bankrupt Air Berlin, as a raucous bidding war closes that could see Germany’s second-largest airline broken down for parts amid wildcat strikes by pilots.
Some 8,500 employees, 140 aircraft and a string of precious landing slots at German airports are in the sights of potential buyers, who range from airline behemoth Lufthansa to upstart challengers like Austrian Formula One legend Niki Lauda.
They have until 1200 GMT to submit offers, with “concrete decisions” expected from management no later than September 25.
Air Berlin carried 36 million passengers in 2016 but has long struggled for survival, booking losses amounting to €1.2 billion over the past two years.
After main shareholder Etihad Airways withdrew its financial support in mid-August, the airline triggered bankruptcy proceedings and gave potential buyers a month to submit offers for its assets.
Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries declared that “no one company will be able to buy Air Berlin for competition reasons”.
Lufthansa, by far Germany’s biggest carrier, appears hungry for Air Berlin’s planes.
It already leases 38 aircraft from its smaller competitor, and could be interested in up to 90, according to media reports.
But competitors in the bidding have accused Lufthansa of seeking a monopoly over the German skies.
Michael O’Leary, outspoken chief executive of Ireland’s no-frills carrier Ryanair, called a stormy Berlin press conference to denounce a German “stitch-up” in favor of Lufthansa.
He told journalists he would not be joining the fray – although some analysts thought the wily businessman might be bluffing.
Meanwhile, Bavarian aviation investor Hans Rudolf Woehrl has already published a €500 million offer to buy Air Berlin as a whole – and invited his rivals to team up with him on the offer.
And Austrian Formula One champion Niki Lauda announced a bid with Thomas Cook Wednesday to buy 38 Air Berlin planes, along with those belonging to the airline’s low-cost subsidiary that bears his first name.