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M&A among European airlines has been heating up in recent weeks. The two largest legacy carriers are in the early stages of potentially big moves, and the largest low-cost carrier is throwing its weight behind a new player.
IAG Dips a Toe in Norwegian
On Thursday, International Airlines Group confirmed it is considering a full offer for low-cost transatlantic carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle. The decision is still in the early stages, however.
At this point, IAG—parent company to British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus—has acquired a 4.61 percent stake in Norwegian as a starting point for discussions. While those discussions could include a full acquisition offer, IAG said "that no such discussions have taken place to date, that it has no decision to make an offer at this time and that there is no certainty that any such decision will be made."
Norwegian has shaken up the transatlantic market in recent years, opening about 30 intercontinental routes between Europe, the U.S. and Asia in the past year. IAG last year launched its own low-cost subsidiary, Level, as a competitor.
Alitalia Bidders Emerge
Alitalia is reviewing three offers as it plots its emergence from insolvency protection. Alitalia has confirmed only the number of offers, not the identity of any of the bidders. Lufthansa, however, has confirmed to Reuters that it submitted plans to create a "new" Alitalia. Low-cost carrier EasyJet, meanwhile, confirmed that it was a part of a consortium offer, according to a report from Bloomberg. The same report indicated private equity investor Cerberus Capital Management was a part of that consortium, along with Air France-KLM, which subsequently said it has no plans to invest in Alitalia.
Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore has named Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air a bidder, as well, though the carrier has declined to confirm that report.
Alitalia executives have said they are looking for plans that keep Alitalia whole and operating out of Italy. The Italian government last year gave Alitalia a 600-million-euro loan to ensure it can keep operating as the decision is made.
Ryanair Invests in New Airline
When Airberlin went belly-up last year, Lufthansa scooped up many of its assets but hit a snag when it came to Airberlin's leisure airline, Niki. Facing antitrust concerns, Lufthansa dropped that part of its plans. IAG at one point seemed poised to acquire Airberlin's assets, which include 15 aircraft, but the successful bidder was Niki's founder, former Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda, who is using them to launch a Vienna-based carrier, LaudaMotion.
In March, Ryanair announced a binding agreement to acquire a 24.9 percent stake in LaudaMotion. That stake will increase to 75 percent "as soon as possible," pending regulatory approval. Ryanair also will provide an additional 50 million euros toward LaudaMotion's startup and operating costs, and the partners plan to grow to a fleet of 30 Airbus aircraft and reach profitability within three years. "The LaudaMotion [agreement] will support a fleet of Airbus aircraft, which is something we have hoped to develop within the Ryanair group for some years," said Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary. "With access to the Ryanair fleet and financial resources, LaudaMotion will now grow more rapidly as it seeks to compete in a market which is dominated by Lufthansa's high airfares with its Swiss and Austrian subsidiaries."
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