EasyJet is being tipped as a possible suitor for parts of Air Berlin after the German carrier filed for insolvency.
The speculation focusing on airport take off and landing slots came as budget rival Ryanair condemned a German government-backed bailout of Air Berlin by flag carrier Lufthansa.
The Irish low-fares giant lodged a formal complaint with the German and European competition authorities, demanding they block a takeover.
The move by Lufthansa gives it the opportunity to acquire slots at airports such as Berlin Tegel and Duesseldorf, with Germany’s largest airline keen to defend its domestic position against expansion by Ryanair.
The German government has granted a bridging loan of €150 million to allow Air Berlin to keep flying for three months and secure the jobs of its 7,200 workers in Germany while takeover negotiations continue.
Lufthansa has already leased Air Berlin aircraft to provide flights by its Eurowings budget offshoot.
Ryanair argued Air Berlin was being prepared for a Lufthansa takeover in an “obvious conspiracy” playing out in Germany over Air Berlin and called for “immediate and decisive action” from the European Commission.
But German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt said he was confident there would be no anti-trust issues because the business would be sold off piecemeal.
A European Commission spokesman told Reuters it was in “constructive contact” with Germany about the Air Berlin issue.
EasyJet declined to comment but it is believed to have ruled out a full-scale takeover and may instead be interested in some airport slots to raise its presence in Germany.
Air Berlin said it had no option but to file for administration after shareholder Etihad Airways withdrew its financial support.
The airline said: “Negotiations with Lufthansa and other partners regarding the acquisition of business units of Air Berlin are far advanced and highly promising. These negotiations may be finalised shortly.”
Air Berlin, which attracted a €250 million cash injection from Etihad in April, has suffered a loss in almost every year since 2008 and has reported debts of more than €1 billion.
The UAE carrier, which first took a stake in 2011 and is a 30% shareholder, said: “Air Berlin’s business has deteriorated at an unprecedented pace, preventing it from overcoming its significant challenges and from implementing alternative strategic solutions.
“Under these circumstances, as a minority shareholder, Etihad cannot offer funding that would further increase our financial exposure. We remain open to helping find a commercially viable solution for all parties.”
The administration filing follows the collapse in June of separate negotiations between the Tui Group and Etihad on a deal to set up a joint-owned leisure carrier combining the fleets of Tui’s German carrier TuiFly and Air Berlin.
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