After comments made last week by Lufthansa’s CEO Carsten Spohr, it appears that Lufthansa is putting together a strategy that would allow it to absorb Air Berlin into Eurowings.   After years of struggling, and failed subsidies/investments by Etihad, it appears that Air Berlin is on life support and without intervention, could simply fade away.

Spohr, speaking before the Lufthansa Group Annual Shareholder’s Meeting, stated 3 criteria would need to be met before Lufthansa would feel comfortable writing a check for Air Berlin.   Specifically he addressed:

  • Air Berlin’s debt level of 1 BILLION Euro and a debt ratio of 4.5:1 makes it a VERY EXPENSIVE acquisition if LH were to acquire the liability.   Spohr suggested that if Lufthansa were to be interested in acquiring ‘AB’, the debt would have to be assumed by Etihad (Air Berlin stakeholder), or be disbursed by some other means before AB would be welcomed to the LH Group.  LH simply would refuse any deal that would involve assuming any of the debt
  • Anti-Trust Concerns from the EU would overshadow any thought of the acquisition.   Not only on a continental EU level, but also intra-Germany, since an AB acquisition by Lufthansa would leave Lufthansa as the only major airline within Germany.    Knowing the EU’s political leanings, it would be foolish to think that they would award a monopoly to Lufthansa.    This issue would create an opportunity for RyanAir or EasyJet to swoop in with proposals for Air Berlin which could be disastrous for Lufthansa.   After all, who wants RyanAir or EasyJet operating in their neighborhood.   Air Berlin joining Lufthansa would also lead to Air Berlin’s exit from OneWorld.
  • Before any deal would take place, Air Berlin would also be required to reign in their costs.    Progress is being made, but Air Berlin is not near being profitable, and again, Lufthansa has indicated that it does not want to inherit any liabilities should they decided to bid for Air Berlin.
  • Assurances would also need to be made for Air Berlin staff.   Any merger would almost certainly guarantee a significant amount of staff overlap and with worker protection laws in Germany being the way they are, Lufthansa will not be able to simply layoff unnecessary workers.    AB employs approximately 8500 people and accommodations would need to me made for those at risk of losing their jobs as a result of a merger.

 

Should LH find a way to navigate the regulatory gauntlet, and get others to take the liability left behind by Air Berlin, it would be an obvious coup for Lufthansa.    Considering that LH’s main focus over the last 3 years has been to build an LCC product that can take on, and beat the likes of RyanAir and EasyJet at their own game, plugging Air Berlin into Eurowings would catapult LH to the forefront of LCC operations in Europe.   The only problem is that Europe’s politics and Lufthansa’s competitors will do everything possible to keep Lufthansa from realizing that success.