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Anastasia Dagaeva
January 25, 2018

Former Formula One motor-racing champion Niki Lauda is poised to take back control of the airline that bears his name after fending off a rival bid from British Airways owner IAG. Lauda made the best offer for NIKI, the Vienna-based leisure carrier, that was left insolvent following the collapse of its parent Air Berlin company, reported Bloomberg.

The ex-Formula One champion will retake ownership of NIKI, rebranding the bankrupt carrier as Laudamotion. No purchase price was given. Lauda told Air Transport World the carrier will be rebranded into Laudamotion, the same name as a General Aviation company he owns with an air operator’s certificate (AOC). The AOC should enable the carrier to restart operations by the end of March 2018, he said. 

However, Niki Lauda may not have enough pilots for the planned relaunch of his airline in March unless he offers attractive contracts, the head of the airline’s works council told Reuters.

After months of uncertainty, many of the nearly 1,000 employees have applied to other airlines such as Austrian Air and Eurowings, which began advertising for NIKI staff weeks ago. “Around 90% of NIKI’s 220 pilots are currently in an application process with other airlines,” works council chief Stefan Tankovits told journalists on the sidelines of the staff meeting. “[People] are still skeptical,” he said.

IAG, which originally bid $24 million plus $22.8 million in bridge financing for NIKI, is disappointed that it won’t be able to add the carrier to a group that includes Spain’s Iberia and Aer Lingus of Ireland, as well as British Airways and Vueling. 

NIKI, formerly Aero Lloyd Austria, was acquired by Lauda and renamed in 2003 before being partnered with Air Berlin a year later and in 2011 was sold to the larger carrier, where it ferried Austrian and German sun-seekers to Mediterranean beaches. 

NIKI was established in 2004 and in 2011 became a 100% Air Berlin subsidiary; in 2012, the airline became a oneworld member. On December, 2016, oneworld member Air Berlin sold 49.8% of NIKI to Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Investment for $373 million.