Saturday 21 July 2018

Lufthansa enters ring as owner of Aer Lingus circles Norwegian

Norwegian Air CEO Bjorn Kjos
Norwegian Air CEO Bjorn Kjos

Victoria Bryan

Germany's Lufthansa has waded into the mix for Scandinavia's Norwegian Air as potential buyers, including Aer Lingus owner IAG, continue to circle the carrier.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told German newspaper 'Sueddeutsche Zeitung' that the airline has been in contact with Norwegian, just weeks after IAG - headed by former Aer Lingus boss Willie Walsh - confirmed that it had snapped up a 4.6pc stake in the under pressure low-cost carrier.

IAG, which also owns British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Level, has previously said that it's interested in making a full offer for Norwegian.

But Mr Walsh has also warned that he will not engage in a bidding war for the airline.

"In Europe, everyone is talking to everyone," Mr Spohr told the newspaper over the weekend. "There's a new wave of consolidation approaching. That means we are also in contact with Norwegian."

Asked if Norwegian would fit with the Lufthansa group, Mr Spohr said: "Takeovers are always a question of strategic value, the price and anti-trust. There are no easy answers."

Last month, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary denied the airline had made an approach last year to buy up to 20pc of Norwegian.

Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos said last month that contact had taken place between the two carriers, but Ryanair insisted no such contact had occurred. Mr O'Leary has frequently predicted the demise of Norwegian.

Shares in Norwegian, whose Norwegian Air International unit is based in Dublin, soared 11pc in early trading yesterday in Oslo.

After the failures of Air Berlin and Monarch last year, airline executives have predicted more consolidation this year in Europe, especially as rising oil prices make life tougher for carriers with weaker finances.

Mr Spohr said earlier this month that Lufthansa would grab more takeover opportunities if they arose and that carriers were all in contact with each other.

"There are no negotiations or in-depth talks and it is open whether anything will come of it," said a source with knowledge of the contact between Lufthansa and Norwegian.

Strategically speaking, Norwegian would fit well with Eurowings, Lufthansa's low-cost brand, the source added.

"The advantage is that it's a functioning flight operation with low costs," the source said.

After taking over parts of Air Berlin last year and acquiring the remaining stake in Brussels Airlines to expand its Eurowings brand, Lufthansa has also eyed Alitalia, though the sale process is being held up by political turmoil. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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