* Details of loan guarantee request “confidential”-CEO
* Carrier targets positive operating profit next year
* Air Berlin “interesting” to players in European market (Adds CEO, CFO comments from annual meeting in London)
By Michelle Martin and Alistair Smout
BERLIN/LONDON, June 14 (Reuters) - The German government is examining a request for loan guarantees from loss-making Air Berlin, the Economy Ministry said on Wednesday.
“We are looking into this application for a guarantee along with the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin,” a ministry spokeswoman told reporters.
She added that presenting a “sustainable concept for the future” was key to getting such a guarantee.
Air Berlin’s CEO Thomas Winkelmann said on Wednesday it was a “confidential figure” when asked for details of the airline’s request for loan guarantees from the two German states.
“We’re not looking for any kind of taxpayers’ money. We don’t want to be state-owned. As management, we look at every opportunity over how to restructure the company, and that includes restructuring the debt,” he told Reuters after the carrier’s annual general meeting in London.
The German carrier, 29 percent-owned by Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad, last week asked Berlin and North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) to consider loan guarantees.
German Economics Minister Brigitte Zypries said on Tuesday that the airline was in a “precarious” situation.
German newspaper Welt reported on Tuesday that Air Berlin is seeking loan guarantees of around 100 million euros ($112 million).
Air Berlin is expecting a difficult 2017, Winkelmann told the annual general meeting, but also said that Air Berlin’s dominant position in key German hubs made it interesting to players in the European market.
Air Berlin Chief Financial Officer Dimitri Courtelis told the AGM that 2017 would be a transitional year, but the company was targeting positive earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) in 2018.
Air Berlin is scrambling to protect roughly 8,000 jobs in Germany, mainly based in Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia.
Winkelmann joined Air Berlin in February 2017, and said on arrival that his aim was to reposition the company. Last year, the carrier made a record net loss of 782 million euros after it faced increased competition from leaner rivals for its traditional routes to Spanish holiday destinations.
Winkelmann has previously said that Air Berlin is seeking a partner, and larger rival Lufthansa, which last year agreed a long-term deal to lease 38 planes and crew from Air Berlin, is seen as the obvious investor.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr had previously expressed interest in Air Berlin on the condition that its debt pile and costs could be brought down. Travel agencies, monopoly experts and rival carrier Ryanair have also raised competition concerns over any possible takeover of Air Berlin by Lufthansa.
Winkelmann said that Air Berlin’s appeal was based in its dominance in Germany’s biggest state NRW and Berlin.
“That strong market position is, I think, interesting for a couple of players in the European market,” he said. “But we can’t comment who or what.” (Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen in Frankfurt, Thomas Escritt and Victoria Bryan in Berlin; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Adrian Croft)