VIENNA (Reuters) - Irish airline Ryanair (RYA.I) has agreed an option with Niki Lauda that could see it take full ownership of the Laudamotion leisure airline in four years, the company said on Wednesday.
Europe’s largest budget carrier is waiting for European regulatory approval to take a 75 percent stake in the re-branded former Niki airline, the remains of which the former Formula One star bought out of insolvency earlier this year.
Ryanair agreed in March to take a 24.9 percent stake in the Austrian carrier and said it planned to raise that to 75 percent as soon as possible.
Lauda and Ryanair also agreed an option that allows the Irish carrier to buy the rest of Laudamotion as well, a Ryanair spokeswoman said, confirming a report by Austrian daily Kurier.
Chief Executive Michael O’Leary said he would have to pay a “weirdly high price” if he decided to do so, according to the paper.
Ryanair said it hoped for the nod from Brussels for the 75 percent stake purchase in the coming weeks.
With the acquisition, the budget airline secures its foothold in Austria, which has become a rapidly expanding hub for eastern European destinations.
To help Laudamotion to deal with a recent rise in oil prices and become profitable, Ryanair is prepared to increase its investment in the carrier by 20 million euros, to take it to 120 million, it said.
Laudamotion will start flying from Vienna on Saturday after starting from Germany in March and from Basel in Switzerland in April.
The airline, which mainly flies to tourist destinations in Europe, will have four planes stationed in the Austrian capital in the summer season and plans to double that for winter, Lauda said last week.
Ryanair said it planned to expand in Vienna in the coming years and build up a base with up to 50 planes.
Germany’s Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) currently has around 90 planes stationed in the Austrian capital. The former Niki airline had 21 carriers in Vienna at its high point.
Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Mark Potter