Air Berlin Group has agreed to sell its shareholding in low-cost Austrian operator Niki to the United Arab Emirates’ Etihad Aviation Group as part of a scheme to create a new European airline.

The 49.8% shareholding will be transferred to Etihad Investment Holding Company, but this entity – in line with European ownership regulations – will not have a majority in Niki, nor control the airline.

Instead it will contribute the shareholding to a new European-owned leisure airline group being established in co-operation with the Middle Eastern company – a group in which budget airline TUIfly is also set to participate.

Niki will take over transport agreements and slots connected with destinations in southern Europe, including the Canary Islands and Madeira, northern Africa, and Turkey – but excluding Italy – from summer 2017.

It will also acquire a batch of Air Berlin Airbus A321s while Air Berlin will assume all A319s and A320s operated by Niki. Air Berlin will discontinue its wet-lease of 14 TUIfly aircraft.

Air Berlin Group stands to gain €300 million ($320 million) as a result of the agreement which, it says, will have a “positive effect” on its financial results.

It adds that the transaction will simplify the airline’s business model and reduce its exposure to seasonal destinations, allowing it to concentrate on the German, Italian, Nordic and Eastern European business markets.

“Step by step, we are transforming Air Berlin into a network carrier focused on domestic and European traffic to feed our two long-haul hubs in Berlin and Dusseldorf,” says chief executive Stefan Pichler.

“We will invest further in the development of Air Berlin’s business-travel offering, in the connectivity of our network and in the expansion of our profitable long-haul programme, particularly to US destinations.”

Etihad Aviation Group says it has approved the plans to establish the European carrier in a venture with TUI, which had previously been cleared by the tour operating giant.

The joint carrier will have some 60 aircraft and provide annual capacity of around 15 million seats.

Etihad Investment Holding Company says it will “immediately” transfer Air Berlin’s divested stake in Niki to the new airline, while TUI will contribute its TUIfly division – including the 14 aircraft operated for Air Berlin.

Private foundation Niki Privatstiftung will hold 50.2% of the new joint venture airline, based in Vienna, with TUI holding 24.8%. Etihad will have the remaining 25%.

It will start operating from April 2017, serving destinations in the Canary Islands, Spain, Greece and the Balearic Islands from several cities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Source: Cirium Dashboard