Air Berlin Gets EU300 Million Lifeline From Etihad in Niki Deal

  • Air Berlin, Niki plan exchange of Airbus single-aisle fleets
  • Niki stake to be owned by new Etihad-TUI joint venture

Air Berlin Plc will receive 300 million euros ($319 million) from Etihad Airways, the main backer of the troubled German airline, gaining an important lifeline as it restructures.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad will buy Air Berlin’s stake in Austrian leisure-flight operator Niki for more than four times Air Berlin’s market value and will sidestep restrictions on foreign ownership of European airlines by folding the company into an Austrian-based holding.

The transaction is part of a larger deal reached in November between Etihad and tour operator TUI AG to combine airline assets in a leisure market burdened by a glut in capacity. Etihad will end up with 25 percent of the joint venture, which will operate about 60 aircraft with capacity to carry 15 million passengers a year. TUI will hold 24.8 percent, with the remaining shares owned by private foundation Niki Privatstiftung.

As part of the deal, Air Berlin will take possession of Niki’s Airbus Group SE single-aisle A321 planes while handing over its Airbus A319 and A320 models to the Austrian partner, the German airline said Monday in a statement. With the start of the summer 2017 schedule, Niki will take over Air Berlin’s routes serving southern Europe excluding Italy, as well as North Africa and Turkey. The stake disposal will help Air Berlin’s earnings once the transaction is completed, the carrier said.

Air Berlin, which has a market value of 68.9 million euros, has racked up 1.27 billion euros in losses over three years, generating bailouts from Etihad. As part of a restructuring that calls for halving its fleet, Air Berlin agreed to operate 40 jets on behalf of long-time rival Deutsche Lufthansa AG. Plans for the new leisure-oriented joint venture have prompted protests by TUI employees.

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