British airline Easyjet is set to win unconditional EU competition approval to buy parts of failed German peer Air Berlin, say sources.
The budget airline will take on some of Air Berlin’s operations at Tegel airport in the German capital for around €40m. It will also take on leases for up to 25 A320 aircraft, and about 1,000 of Air Berlin’s pilots and cabin crew. The move will allow Easyjet to further bolster its position in Berlin, pulling far ahead of Ireland’s Ryanair and Lufthansa in the German capital.Air Berlin was the largest carrier in Berlin before its insolvency, followed by the combined Lufthansa Group airlines, Ryanair and Easyjet.
German flag carrier Lufthansa has traditionally not focused on Berlin, instead doing most of its flying out of hubs in Frankfurt and Munich. Lufthansa’s budget unit, Eurowings, plans to expand rapidly should Lufthansa’s plans to buy Air Berlin units Niki and LGW receive competition approval.
Passenger numbers at Berlin’s Tegel and Schoenefeld airports rose 11.4% last year to 33m. Should the deals be approved, Easyjet will become the largest carrier in Berlin with 16m seats, ahead of 10.7m for the Lufthansa Group, which includes Eurowings, plus the LGW and Niki seats, and Ryanair on 5.9m, according to presentation slides from Easyjet last month.
However, it is not yet clear how much Lufthansa and Eurowings will be able to expand in the capital and elsewhere. Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said the group was willing to take over Niki with virtually no slots if it meant getting EU approval for the deal.
Easyjet has previously said if it gets approval it expects to start operations from Tegel in January.
Ryanair is also keen to expand in Berlin. Last week, it said it was also seeking slots in the capital in order to base nine new aircraft at Tegel in a challenge to Easyjet and Lufthansa.
Easyjet shares rose 1.2%, while Ryanair shares were up 0.7%.
Ryanair said its overall November passenger numbers rose 6% to 9.3m from a year earlier.
Reuters and staff of Irish Examiner