14 December, 2017

The uncertain future of Niki

The fate of the Austrian subsidiary of Air Berlin, Niki seemed relatively certain a few days ago after Lufthansa had agreed to buy it as part of its rescue deal for Air Berlin. However European regulators expressed concern over competition in the region and so the German flag carrier Lufthansa has been forced to scrap its plans to buy Niki on Wednesday.  The surprise move has grounded the airlines fleet of aircraft and stranded thousands of passengers. The airlines managing director said was a “national disaster for Austria”.

The email message advising the end of Niki

Austria’s Transport Ministry indicated that there were approximately 5,000 Niki passengers stranded overseas over the next few weeks. Some would be able to get special 'rescue' fares with other airlines, including Eurowings and Tui.   

The airlines' administrator started urgent talks today in an effort to secure a purchaser for the beleaguered airline founded by former racing driver Niki Lauda. The administrators believe they must act with extreme urgency or else the airline may lose one of its most valuable assets, its runway slots!

Generally speaking in Europe, after the bankruptcy of an airline, the expensive runway slots are returned to a central pool from which they are redistributed to other airlines. Unless of course a buy has been found for the bankrupt airline. 

One of the administrators, Frank Kebekus hoped a deal for Niki could be agreed before the end of the year. “If we had that, then we can certainly take another week or two in January to finalize it,” he told local media. 

Local media is also reporting that there are five companies that have expressed an interest in buying the airline business. Although according to Wolfgang Katzian of Austrian union GPA said there were four interested parties, but refused to name them.

Earlier in the year, before the Lufthansa deal was in place, Niki Lauda offered around €100 million in partnership with Condor - part of Thomas Cook for Niki and 17 aircraft.  Yesterday he expressed to local radio that he was still interested in taking over the company - this time without a business partner.

The future is looking incredibly uncertain, for both passengers and staff - who still don't know for sure if they are going to get their wages for November. 

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