August 31, 2017 / 9:07 AM / 21 days ago

German investor Woehrl takes issue with Air Berlin sale process

An Airbus A320-214 aircraft of Air Berlin airways is seen at Zurich airport, Switzerland August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The field of bidders for Air Berlin’s (AB1.DE) assets appeared to narrow further on Thursday when aviation investor Hans Rudolf Woehrl stepped back from the process to search for a partner.

Air Berlin, Germany’s second-largest airline, filed for bankruptcy protection in August after shareholder Ethical Airways withdrew funding following years of losses.

Now the carrier is to be carved up, most likely among several buyers, with about 140 leased aircraft and valuable take-off and landing slots in Germany up for grabs.

Leading German airline Lufthansa (LHAG.DE), Britain’s easyJet (EZJ.L) and Thomas Cook’s (TCG.L) Condor are seen as likely bidders. Ryanair (RYA.I) will not submit a bid, Chief Executive Michael O‘Leary said on Wednesday.

Woehrl -- who made his name when he bought German airline Deutsche BA from British Airways for a nominal 1 euro ($1.17) in 2003 -- has proposed keeping Air Berlin intact as a charter airline rather than carving it up.

But he declined to sign a confidentiality agreement that would allow him to look at Air Berlin’s books, a pre-condition for a formal offer for the carrier. Such a step would be inappropriate as it wants to work with one of the other bidders on a joint offer, Woehrl’s firm Intro said.

“The agreement is unsuitable given the consortium solution that Intro is planning,” the statement said.

Lufthansa has already turned Woehrl down, but he has received positive signals from other bidders, it said, without providing details. Woehrl reiterated that he was not interested in buying only parts of Air Berlin.

Lufthansa, which declined to comment on Woehrl’s statement, has the German government’s backing to take over major parts of Air Berlin.

A source has told Reuters that the German flagship carrier could acquire as many as 90 of its planes, including 38 aircraft it is already leasing from the airline and its leisure unit Niki.

EasyJet and Condor could split the rest of the fleet between them, media reports have said, with easyJet interested in up to 40 planes and Condor a double-figure number.

Former motor racing driver Niki Lauda has expressed interest in buying back leisure unit Niki.

Bidders for the assets must submit offers by a Sept. 15 deadline, and a decision could come on Sept. 21, three days before a German election.

The carrier is being kept in the air thanks to a 150 million euro ($178 million) government loan, which it has said would last for up to three months.

($1 = 0.8424 euros)

Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Additional reporting by Peter Maushagen; Editing by Edmund Blair and Keith Weir

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