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Thomas Cook confirms 'multiple bids' for airlines

Thomas Cook has received "multiple bids" for its airlines since launching a strategic review of the business in February, it confirmed today in disclosing half-year results.

The travel group says the offers variously span the whole of the airlines business or just parts of it.

"As we assess these bids, we will consider all options to enhance value to shareholders and intensify our strategic focus," it adds.

The Group Airline unit's underlying operating profit worsened 20% in the six-month period ended 31 March, to £71 million ($91 million), as revenue declined 8.1% to £1.02 billion.

Capacity was boosted 9% in the winter season. Passenger numbers were up 8% "against a strong prior year comparator", says the group, while operational performance "substantially improved" and 19% fewer passengers were affected by 3h delays.

The airline unit's seat sales in the short- and medium-haul sectors were up 12%, but yields were "slightly behind a strong prior year, driven at the time by the failures of Monarch in the UK and Air Berlin/Niki in Germany"

Condor, the group's German airline, "has driven particularly strong growth in third-party sales in short/medium-haul, of 27% in the first half, as it benefits from providing a reliable service in a disrupted market", notes the group.

Long-haul seats offered by its airlines were reduced by 2.5%. Load factors here were "slightly ahead" and yields "slightly behind".

The airline unit will operate 105 aircraft this summer, excluding wet leases, as it "consolidates its growth in 2018", says the group. Airline bookings for the season are 6% lower than last year, "in line with our expectations, reflecting a strong comparative period and capacity reductions to our in-house tour operator".

Though the uncertainly over Brexit has softened UK demand for summer holidays, the airline unit is seeing "robust" long-haul sales in that market, with "good pricing". Condor's sales to third-party tour operators meanwhile continue to track ahead of last year's.

"Average selling prices are up 2% overall, with short/medium haul yields slightly behind prior year, while the long-haul business, especially in the UK, is achieving good yields and improved load factors," says Thomas Cook.

The group's overall underlying operating profit widened from £170 million to £245 million in the six months ended 31 March. The period was "characterised by an uncertain consumer environment across all our markets," states chief executive Peter Fankhauser. "The prolonged heatwave last summer and high prices in the Canaries reduced customer demand for winter sun, particularly in the Nordic region."

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