Since the bankruptcy of parent company AirBerlin Austrian discount/holiday airline Niki has taken quite the ride. First it was to be part of the Lufthansa Group, likely joining the Eurowings operation. That deal fell apart due to anti-trust concerns. Then IAG stepped in, offering to bring Niki into its Veuling LCC arm while still maintaining some independence in the operation. That deal was tossed out because it was only approved by a German judge and the core operations are in Austria.
Read More: Niki joins the Vueling family
The two courts appeared to agree on coordinating their efforts in the case, something that should’ve smoothed the process when bids were submitted anew. And it seems that the process was smoothed, but not in the expected manner. IAG reports that its bid was rejected this time around.
So, who owns Niki now?
It appears that the company may be returning to the hands of its founder, Niki Lauda, and his company Laudamotion. Lauda has pushed to regain control of his company at each stage of the bankruptcy process. He was rebuffed time and again. But now it appears that he finally realized the goal. Of course, calling anything a done deal at this point would seem a foolish choice given how soft each of the prior disposition announcements proved to be.
The cynic in me would suggest that Lauda used his influence with Austrian officials to skew some of the conversations around the proceedings, helping to scuttle the earlier deals. There is still a nationalistic pride about having a locally owned airline and Austria was about to lose that position. Assuming the Laudamotion deal goes through, Niki remains an Austrian operation.
Read More: The collapse of Niki
And there seems to be decent confidence that it can continue to operate successfully independently of a larger parent airline. That might just be wishful thinking given the consolidation trend and fare pressures, especially in Europe, but it seems that Niki (both the man and the airline) are now poised to find out.
Header image: Niki A320 by Hans-Peter Gauster/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
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LH HQ is probably cracking open the 1965 Bollinger when this news broke – AB is gone, IAG/Vueling is kept at bay, while Niki under Lauda will be even weaker than its current form.
IAG should’ve submitted a larger and more comprehensive bid for a much larger portion of AB earlier, but they got greedy and only submitted bids for the better parts without proper commitment to labor (make sense financially but they should know better than that since many European airlines, till this day, are a source of national pride), and now lost out in the fight not only once, but twice.
The interesting fight will be to see how the Alitalia ordeal plays out. If I were LH, I’d pull out the old Swissair-Crossair-SWISS playbook and essentially expand Air Dolomiti (with optional re-branding) in its national flag carrier while offering to re-hire all Alitalia crew under new contracts. The Alitalia brand is simply too toxic at this point for anyone to buy them “as is”.
This is a prime example of corruption in Austria’s business world – it’s all about who you know, rather than actually offering the best deal. Regardless of the fact that Lauda was involved in 1 bankruptcy of Lauda Air (first iteration), near collapse of the second iteration of Lauda Air – before Austrian Airlines being forced (through political pressure) to buy the airline, which (in part) was due to the almost collapse of Austrian Airlines, and then Fky NIKI, which he pretty much immediately sold to Air Berlin – when people started realising that Niki Lauda cannot run an airline. Indeed almost immediately after founding fly niki he outsourced almost all of its operations to Air Berlin.
Norbert Hofer (the failed Presidential candidate for the FPOe), Transport Minister in Austria is a former Lauda Air employee – technician, and Sebastrian Kurz, the Federal Chancellor, received backing from Niki Lauda during the most recent elections.
Furthermore, the legal challenge that forced the bankruptcy proceedings from Germany to Austria was carried out by a mysterious consumer/travel rights organisation which had never existed before, and surprisingly senior Lauda supporters were backers of it.
All very mysterious and seeing that actually the worst deal possible for NIKI employees and Austrian travelers.
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