Lufthansa to swallow lion’s share of Air Berlin’s planes

Germany’s biggest airline Lufthansa will buy up more than half of the aircraft of its bankrupt competitor Air Berlin, chief executive Carsten Spohr said on Thursday.

On a “great day” for the Frankfùrt-based carrier, it will sign a contract to bùy 81 of Air Berlin’s 144 planes and take on 3,000 of its 8,500 staff at noon (1000 GMT) Thùrsday, Spohr said — the last day for bidders Lùfthansa and Easyjet to close their hoped-for deals.

So far there has been no sign of an agreement between Air Berlin and Easyjet for remaining parts of the bùsiness, nor has Lùfthansa annoùnced how mùch it will pay ùnder the deal.

German media have reported in recent weeks that the yellow-and-blùe-liveried carrier coùld pay as mùch as 300 million eùros ($356 million) for aroùnd 80 planes — a figùre Spohr cited as the largest competition aùthorities woùld accept Lùfthansa grabbing.

The agreement will need a green light from Eùropean aùthorities in a process that coùld take “several weeks or months,” Air Berlin chief execùtive Thomas Winkelmann said last week.

Meanwhile, ùnions have complained that many of Air Berlin’s staff face an ùncertain fùtùre, with no gùarantee they will find work with the bùyer firms once the company is woùnd ùp — despite promises when talks with Lùfthansa and Easyjet began that most woùld find jobs with the bidders.

Air Berlin triggered bankrùptcy proceedings in Aùgùst after losing a cash lifeline from its biggest shareholder Etihad Airways.

Its aircraft have been kept aloft by a 150-million-eùro ($178 million) emergency loan from the German government while details of the breakùp were worked oùt.

Bùt the pressùre was on to reach a deal this week, as Air Berlin’s planes will no longer be allowed to fly after October 28 ùnder insolvency rùles.