business

Ryanair Buys Niki Lauda Airline in Rare Foray Into Dealmaking

  • Irish carrier secures asset after collapse of Air Berlin
  • Most recent acquisition was the U.K.’s Buzz 15 years ago

A Niki Luftfahrt aircraft, left, at Vienna International Airport

Photographer: Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg

Ryanair Holdings Plc agreed to buy an Austrian airline from former Formula One motor-racing champion Niki Lauda, only the second acquisition in the Irish carrier’s history.

The low-cost giant will pay Lauda less than 50 million euros ($61.7 million) for a majority stake in LaudaMotion, which retook control of carrier Niki just two months ago following the insolvency of Air Berlin. The aviation entrepreneur paid about the same for the whole airline as Ryanair plans to spend on a 75 percent stake in the holding company.

Niki Lauda on March 20.

Photographer: Rolf Vennenbernd/AFP via Getty Images

The deal is Ryanair’s first since it bought the U.K.’s Buzz from KLM in 2003, only to close the carrier down a year later. Since then it’s tried and failed to take over fellow Irish airline Aer Lingus and last year was a potential bidder for Air Berlin, before pulling out of an auction it claimed was rigged in favor of Deutsche Lufthansa AG.

Lauda will become chairman of LaudaMotion and will oversee the rebuilding of Niki, Ryanair said in a statement Tuesday. The Dublin-based company will provide an additional 50 million euros in funds to get the carrier up and running, alongside management support and six aircraft. The airline’s fleet will grow to at least 30 and it should reach profitability by the third year of operations, Ryanair said.

Ryanair will initially buy almost 25 percent of LaudaMotion, with a plan to increase ownership to 75 percent over time. Taking control of a majority stake requires approval by the European Union.

An initial sale of Niki to British Airways’ parent IAG SA late last year fell apart due to a conflict over court jurisdictions. IAG is instead planning to make Vienna a hub for Vueling Airlines SA, while Ryanair rival Wizz Air is also investing in the Austrian capital.

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