Frankfurt, London: Deutsche Lufthansa and easyJet kicked off the carve-up of airberlin as bidders submitted proposals for the carrier abandoned by investor Etihad Airways after a turnaround failed.
Airberlin’s administrators received binding offers from “several” suitors as of Friday’s 2pm deadline, according to the company. Lufthansa and easyJet confirmed that they lodged bids, while Thomas Cook’s German Condor unit submitted a pitch with Niki Lauda, the founder of airberlin’s leisure arm.
“The proposal is consistent with easyJet’s focused, city-based strategy in Germany,” the Luton, England based discount carrier said in a statement, adding that it aims to buy “parts” of Air Berlin’s short-haul business. It added that “there is no certainty at this stage that any transaction will proceed.”
Lufthansa, which has its main hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, submitted an offer by the deadline, according to a spokesman who said the parties had agreed not to disclose details. Creditors will meet September 21 to assess the proposals with a decision set for September 25, Air Berlin said Friday in a statement.
easyJet’s bid may be coordinated with Lufthansa, Per-Ola Hellgren, an analyst at Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg, wrote in a note to clients ahead of the deadline. “While it may seem like a choice between the plague and cholera, we believe that Lufthansa would rather see a somewhat stronger easyJet than Ryanair expanding without resistance,” he said.
Europe’s biggest discount airline, Ryanair Holdings Plc said it didn’t submit an offer and is limiting its interest to Alitalia SpA, another Etihad investment that filed for bankruptcy after the Abu Dhabi carrier pulled the plug on funding.
Air Berlin has also drawn interest from a crowd of less likely bidders, including closely held logistics service provider Zeitfracht of Berlin. Utz Claassen, a former CEO of German utility EnBW, according to media reports. Hans Rudolf Woehrl, an aviation entrepreneur who sold various carriers to Air Berlin in the past, said September 10 that he made an offer that may amount to €500 million ($597 million: Dh2.19 billion).
Bidders for Alitalia have until October 3 to file their plans. The near simultaneous collapse of leading airlines in two of Europe’s biggest aviation markets has forced interested parties to evaluate how to play each deal.
Alitalia filed for bankruptcy protection in May after employees rejected a refinancing deal that included job losses. Airberlin went into insolvency administration in August following Etihad’s decision to end funding amid a restructuring that called for cutting the fleet in half.
To be sure, airberlin’s position is dire. The company lost €300 million in the three months though March and while airlines typically make more money in summer, it was losing about €3 million per day, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told employees in a briefing last month.
Air Berlin pilots staged a sickout this week that resulted in the cancellation of more than 100 flights, prompting the insolvency administrator to warn that all planes could be grounded unless staff return to work right away.
“What’s really at stake is the future of the German aviation market,” Sanford C. Bernstein & Co analysts including Daniel Roeska wrote in a report. “Anybody taking the airline as a whole and trying to turn it around from bankruptcy will see his money vanish quicker than he can say ‘abracadabra’.”
Ryanair’s proposal to the Italian administrators will include pledges to buy new Boeing or Airbus planes for Alitalia’s short-haul operations. easyJet is sceptical about bidding for Alitalia. Lufthansa’s Spohr has yet to rule out looking at the assets.
Ryanair shares hit by flight cancellations
Ryanair shares fell 3 per cent on Monday after the Irish budget airline took the unusual step of cancelling between 40 and 50 flights per day until the end of October, disrupting hundreds of thousands of journeys. Ryanair said the cancellations, which were announced on Friday and began immediately, were designed “to improve its system-wide punctuality which has fallen below 80 per cent in the first two weeks of September.”
Ryanair blamed a number of factors for the sudden cancellations including a backlog of staff leave, which must be allocated before the end of the year. It also said air traffic control strikes and weather disruptions were affecting its performance.
Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers sent emails to the first affected passengers on Friday, giving them the choice of a refund or an alternative flight, and has so far issued cancellation notices up until Wednesday.
The cancellations brought bad publicity for an airline which has worked hard over the past few years to improve its image.