Lauda to bid for part of Air Berlin with Thomas Cook's Condor

VIENNA (Reuters) - Former motor racing driver Niki Lauda will table an offer for parts of insolvent airline Air Berlin AB1.DE together with Thomas Cook's TCG.L German carrier Condor, Lauda told Austrian newspaper Kurier on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO - An Airbus A330-223 aircraft of German carrier AirBerlin takes off towards New York, U.S., from Duesseldorf airport, Germany, September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Lauda holds 51 percent of the consortium which will bid for 21 Airbus A320 and A321 planes of Air Berlin’s subsidiary Niki - formerly owned by Lauda - as well as 17 additional aircraft flying under the Air Berlin banner, according to Kurier’s online edition.

The consortium plans to service short and medium haul flights to tourism hot spots, making use of Condor’s expertise in that sector.

“As we have said previously, Thomas Cook and its leisure airline Condor stand ready to play an active role in the restructuring of Air Berlin and its subsidiary Niki. Clearly, we will explore all options,” said a Thomas Cook spokesman.

A spokeswoman for Lauda confirmed the Kurier report.

Air Berlin, Germany’s second-biggest airline, is set to be carved up, most likely among several buyers, with binding offers due on Friday.

The airline filed for bankruptcy protection last month after its biggest shareholder, Etihad Airways, withdrew funding following years of losses.

Air Berlin had to cancel flights on Tuesday and Wednesday after pilots called in sick in unusually high numbers, a move seen as a protest about job uncertainty but potentially complicating efforts to rescue the insolvent carrier.

Kurier quoted Lauda as saying he did not understand why the pilots “were accelerating a bankruptcy before Air Berlin is sold.”

Germany’s biggest airline, Lufthansa, is seen in pole position to acquire large parts of its rival and a decision on the bids come could as early as Sept. 21, three days before Germany’s national election.

One source has told Reuters that Lufthansa is interested in as many as 90 of Air Berlin’s planes. That number includes the 33 being used by Eurowings, five already leased to Lufthansa’s Austrian Airlines as well as planes used by Air Berlin subsidiary Niki, the source said.

Media reports said British carrier easyJet EZJ.L may want up to 40 planes.

Aviation investor Hans Rudolf Woehrl said he had submitted a bid for the whole of Air Berlin while German family-owned logistics company Zeitfracht has also expressed interest.

Air Berlin has also attracted buyer interest from China’s LinkGlobal Logistics, German newspaper Bild reported on Wednesday.

Reporting By Shadia Nasralla, Victoria Bryan in Berlin; Editing by Susan Fenton