The International Airlines Group (IAG) is to buy assets of the Austrian holiday airline Niki, formerly part of the airberlin group, for €20 million and will provide additional liquidity of up to €16.5 million.
The transaction is being made by a newly formed subsidiary of IAG-owned Vueling that will be incorporated as an Austrian company and run initially as a separate operation. The deal is subject to the usual closing conditions such as EC competition approval. The assets include up to 15 A320 aircraft and slots at various airports including Vienna, Düsseldorf, Munich, Palma and Zurich. The new company plans to retain about 740 former Niki staff.
Willie Walsh, IAG Chief Executive, said: “Niki was the most financially viable part of airberlin and its focus on leisure travel means that it is a great fit with Vueling. This deal will enable Vueling to increase its presence in Austria, Germany and Switzerland and provide the region’s consumers with more choice of low-cost air travel.”
Airberlin filed for insolvency in August after shareholder Etihad Airways withdrew financial support. Lufthansa dropped plans to purchase Niki in mid-December after the European Commission had expressed “deep competition concerns” about a possible Lufthansa purchase of 81 Air Berlin and Niki aircraft, saying that would limit choice for air travellers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Niki then filed for insolvency protection and grounded its aircraft. Austrian ex-F1 racing champion Niki Lauda, who founded the airline and sold it to Air Berlin in 2011, made an unsuccessful bid to buy back the airline.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has approved easyJet’s purchase of some Air Berlin assets, ruling that there is no breach of EU competition policy.