Lufthansa scraps deal for Air Berlin's Niki

Austrian airline Niki says to stop flying Thursday

Austrian airline Niki says to stop flying Thursday

Germany's Lufthansa says it has withdrawn its bid for the Niki division of bankrupt Air Berlin as it tries to secure European Union approval for its planned takeover of much of what was once the country's second-biggest airline.

Austrian leisure carrier Niki has filed to open insolvency proceedings and grounded flights after Lufthansa was forced to drop its acquisition of the carrier from insolvent parent Air Berlin amid European competition concerns.

Lufthansa says the Commission sees these concessions as "unsatisfactory and signaled clearly that it could not allow taking over and integrating Niki" into Lufthansa's low-priced subsidiary, Eurowings. Lufthansa's chief executive officer (CEO) Carsten Spohr had recently emphasized that he was unwilling to uphold this arrangement throughout a detailed anti-trust assessment by the European Commission. Those included some of the slots belonging to LG Walter, an Air Berlin subsidiary.

Aside from Lufthansa, Niki attracted bids from International Airlines Group (IAG) and Thomas Cook.

"(From a financial point of view), this leads to a comparable result for the Lufthansa Group", it said. "It was clear from the start that Lufthansa and Air Berlin overlap on a very significant number of routes", the commission said.

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"The government will do everything it can to limit the damage to the tax payer", he added.

The Austrian transport ministry said it would repatriate any Niki passengers stranded overseas by cancelled flights.

Shares in Easyjet were down 0.1% at 1,438.00 pence Tuesday. Air Berlin in 2004 first bought a stake in Niki, founded a year earlier by Formula One champion Niki Lauda, and in 2010 purchased the majority of the airline.

Lufthansa said on Wednesday it still meant to pursue growth plans for its Eurowings budget subsidiary and would apply for any Niki slots that become free in the event of an insolvency.

Lufthansa's purchase of LGW would generate 18 million euros to be applied to repaying the German government loan, Air Berlin also said. That would leave the German government almost 100 million euros short.

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