Ryanair accuses Lufthansa of Air Berlin ‘conspiracy’
Ryanair has accused Lufthansa and the German government of conspiring to carve up collapsed airline Air Berlin.
Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday, after the Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad ended its financial support for the airline.
However, Air Berlin planes are still flying, thanks to a €150m German government loan.
Ryanair said there was an “obvious conspiracy” between Germany, Lufthansa and Air Berlin to carve up the assets.
Air Berlin’s passenger numbers have been in freefall. Last month the airline – Germany’s second-biggest carrier – lost a quarter of its customers compared with July last year.
Germany’s economy minister, Brigitte Zypries, said that a deal whereby Lufthansa took over part of the insolvent airline should be struck in the next few months.
Ryanair said: “This manufactured insolvency is clearly being set up to allow Lufthansa to take over a debt-free Air Berlin which will be in breach of all known German and EU competition rules.
“Now even the German government is supporting this Lufthansa-led monopoly with 150m euros of state aid so that Lufthansa can acquire Air Berlin and drive domestic air fares in Germany even higher than they already are.”
Ryanair has lodged competition complaints with the German regulator, the Bundeskartellamt, and the European Commission.
Lufthansa said it was already in negotiations with Air Berlin to take over parts of the company and is exploring the possibility of hiring additional staff. “Lufthansa intends to conclude these negotiations successfully in due time.”
Ryanair has in the past made other criticisms of the relationship between Air Berlin and Lufthansa.
Lufthansa has been operating 38 Air Berlin Airbus jets on its behalf under a “wet lease” arrangement. In January Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary described the deal as a “joke”.
He told the German magazine WirtschaftsWoche that the deal was “a takeover with the aim of dominating the market. Lufthansa controls the capacities of its most important competitor, sets the prices and decides where aircraft will start. The German authorities are doing nothing”.
However, the demise of Air Berlin could open up the German market to more competition.
Ryanair and EasyJet have only managed to get a toehold at airports such as Berlin, Cologne/Bonn, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt.
Gerald Khoo, transport analyst at Liberium Capital, said: “Based on August schedules, Germany currently represents just 9% of EasyJet’s capacity and 7% of Ryanair’s, compared with 76% of Lufthansa’s, highlighting the relative importance of that market to each carrier.”
Ryanair has been targeting the German market, with new routes to and from Frankfurt.
Mr Khooo said: “We would expect German airports to move up the list of priorities for next summer for both major low cost carriers, whether or not they attempt to pick up assets and/or staff from Air Berlin’s bankruptcy process.”
Reuters reported on Tuesday that Easyjet was in talks to buy assets from Air Berlin. EasyJet declined to comment.