Airline sale

IAG snaps up Niki to expand Vueling in German-speaking markets

Budget airline Vueling will gain a major foothold in Germany, Austria and Switzerland with the takeover of insolvent grounded airline Niki for just €36.5 million.

January 02, 2018
A new label... Niki will become part of Vueling, the Spanish budget airline owned by BA-Iberia parent company IAG.
Photo: André Lenthe

International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus, beat off lower offers from Niki Lauda, Thomas Cook (Condor) and TUI (TUIfly) in a deal worth up to €36.5 million that was sealed late last week.

The British-Spanish group will pay €20 million for the former Air Berlin subsidiary along with an additional €16.5 million to cover the grounded airline’s ongoing costs. IAG will take over all of Niki’s slots at Vienna, Düsseldorf, Munich, Palma and Zürich airports, along with 15 of its 21 leased A320s, and 740 of its 1,000 staff. Niki still retains its operating licence, including slots, despite its insolvency filing and grounding on December 13.

The European Commission needs to approve the IAG/Vueling acquisition but this is seen as a formality after Brussels blocked Lufthansa’s original offer of about €190 million for Niki on competition grounds. Approval is expected by February or March, paving the way to Niki to take off again for the summer 2018 season.

In future, Niki will operate as a subsidiary of IAG’s Spanish-based budget airline Vueling. The fast-growing low-cost airline, based in Barcelona, has a fleet of 108 planes at 20 bases, and operates more than 345 routes to 137 airports in Europe, Middle East and Africa. However, it currently only has a limited network of flights to and from Germany.

Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive, said: "Niki was the most financially viable part of Air Berlin and its focus on leisure travel means it's a great fit with Vueling. This deal will enable Vueling to increase its presence in Austria, Germany and Switzerland and provide the region's consumers with more choice of low cost air travel.”

IAG said that the Niki acquisition will be made through a new Austrian-based Vueling subsidiary company and that Niki will “run initially as a separate operation”. The airline group will provide more details about the new subsidiary's branding and route network “in due course and when appropriate”.

Commenting on the sale, Niki’s insolvency administrator Lucas Flöther said: “Niki will gain a financially strong partner with a long-term concept to maintain the business. Alongside the best acquisition price offer, this was also the reason why the provisional creditor committee decided on Vueling as the investor. Through the acquisition, Vueling will gain the opportunity to enter many attractive routes to which it previously did not have access.”

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