August 24, 2017 / 10:53 AM / in 2 months

Thomas Cook's Condor, Lufthansa eye Air Berlin planes: sources

BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Thomas Cook’s (TCG.L) German leisure airline Condor and Lufthansa are interested in taking on a number of planes from insolvent Air Berlin (AB1.DE), sources familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday.

People watch an aircraft operated by German carrier Air Berlin landing in Berlin's Tegel airport, Germany, August 23, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest carrier, filed for insolvency last week after major shareholder Etihad pulled the plug on funding.

The race is on for interested parties to agree a deal for parts of its business, including planes and crew, which would bring access to take-off and landing slots at airports such as Duesseldorf, Berlin Tegel, Munich and Hamburg.

Condor is “in the process of preparing a concrete offer”, one source said, adding Condor was interested in mainly short-haul routes, and also some long-haul ones.

Lufthansa (LHAG.DE), which was first to talk with Air Berlin, on Wednesday said it had presented a term-sheet to the insolvent carrier, setting out its interest in taking over parts of the Air Berlin group.

The German flagship carrier’s proposal for the carve-up of Air Berlin would see it taking over the insolvent carrier’s leisure airline unit Niki and other planes for a sum in the low hundreds of millions of euros, another source said.

Those aircraft, up to 90, would include 38 crewed planes Lufthansa already leases from Air Berlin.

The source further said a likely deal could be 80 planes for Lufthansa, 24 for Condor and 40 for easyJet.

Air Berlin’s planes are currently being kept in the air thanks to a 150 million euro ($177 million) government loan. But if the money runs out and Air Berlin is grounded, the airport slots go into a pool where they will be divided up among airlines.

Thomas Cook repeated an earlier statement that it stood ready to play an “active role”.

Its interest in a “double-digit” number of planes was first reported by Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

EasyJet’s interest in up to 40 planes, with slots in Berlin and Hamburg, was reported by Handelsblatt. The British budget carrier declined to comment.

Ryanair (RYA.I) has said it would be interested in a bid for the whole of Air Berlin, as has German aviation investor Hans Rudolf Woehrl, who said he had been invited to talks with Air Berlin next week.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa’s budget unit Eurowings seemed to be making an early attempt to attract any Air Berlin staff keen to find a new job while negotiations are still ongoing.

Eurowings on Wednesday announced a recruitment drive, saying it was seeking around 200 pilots and 400 cabin crew qualified to fly and crew A320 planes. It did not specifically mention Air Berlin in the announcement on its website.

($1 = 0.8481 euros)

Editing by Mark Potter and David Evans

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