August 21, 2017 / 8:50 AM / 3 months ago

Lufthansa gets backing from Economy Minister in Air Berlin carve-up

BERLIN, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Lufthansa has received more German government support in its bid to take over substantial assets of insolvent rival Air Berlin, with German Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries saying she would welcome such a move.

“Lufthansa is already an aviation champion - its position can be strengthened further though,” she was quoted saying by German daily Handelsblatt on Monday. “There are many interested parties. But for competition reasons, no single airline can buy Air Berlin.”

Lufthansa, Germany’s top carrier, cannot buy all of Air Berlin because it would give it a dominant position in Germany. But Lufthansa was first in line for the talks, ahead of other potential bidders.

Ryanair boss Michael O‘Leary has already complained that the process is going too quickly to give others a chance to bid.

EasyJet, Thomas Cook’s German airline Condor and tour operator TUI could also be among the interested parties.

Buying parts of Air Berlin and taking on its staff would give successful bidders access to Air Berlin’s takeoff and landing slots at busy airports such as Duesseldorf and Berlin.

Negotiations over Air Berlin, which filed for insolvency last week and is being kept in the air with a government loan, took place at the weekend and are set to continue apace.

Chief Executive Thomas Winkelmann was quoted as saying over the weekend that he hoped for a solution in September.

Winkelmann said Air Berlin had been in talks with more than 10 parties but ultimately the assets would likely be divided up among two or three buyers.

Austrian leisure airline unit Niki, which is not part of the insolvency proceedings, is also seen as attractive because it has lower costs.

Businessman Hans Rudolf Woehrl, who sold airlines DBA and LTU to Air Berlin a decade ago, is also interested, but has said he wants to buy Air Berlin as a whole and keep it running as an independent airline. (Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by David Holmes)

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