Ryanair challenges Air Berlin ownership ‘conspiracy’

Ryanair has lodged formal complaints with the European Commission and Germany’s competition authority over what it calls a brewing “conspiracy” surrounding the future ownership of broke carrier Air Berlin.

Air Berlin yesterday filed for insolvency after its main shareholder Etihad Airways withdrew financial support.

That led to the German government providing a €150m bridging loan to the airline to ensure flights and services continue for the immediate future, with Lufthansa circling as a potential buyer of part of the business.

The loan is backed by a federal guarantee and has been made available through Germany’s state development bank, the KfW.

Ryanair earlier this year questioned the legality of a route share deal between Lufthansa and Air Berlin. It has said a takeover by Lufthansa would be in breach of competition rules.

“This manufactured insolvency is clearly being set up to allow Lufthansa to take over a debt-free Air Berlin, which will be in breach of all known German and EU competition rules,” said Ryanair spokesman Robin Kiely.

“Now, even the German government is supporting this Lufthansa-led deal with €150m of state aid so that Lufthansa can acquire Air Berlin and drive domestic air fares in Germany even higher than they already are. German customers and visitors will suffer higher air fares to pay for this Lufthansa monopoly,” he said.

Ryanair, which has an 8% share of the German market, has previously called the restructuring moves surrounding Air Berlin as “anti-competitive” and “anti-consumer”.

Etihad said it withdrew funding after Air Berlin’s operations deteriorated at an “unprecedented pace” in recent months. Lufthansa and another unidentified airline are far advanced with plans for a partial rescue of Air Berlin and a deal could be finalised in the coming weeks, Air Berlin said.

Analysts recently said Lufthansa was likely to absorb Air Berlin in the event of a collapse. EasyJet has been named as the chief contender for Air Berlin assets to be sold to meet competition requirements, such as Austrian budget carrier Niki and some slots in Berlin and Dusseldorf.

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