Airberlin subsidiary NIKI—which filed for insolvency Dec. 13 and abruptly ceased operations—has left up to 40,000 passengers stranded throughout its European network after a rescue deal by Lufthansa collapsed, four months after airberlin filed for bankruptcy.
Lufthansa had planned to integrate NIKI into its own Eurowings.
A source from air navigation services provider Austro Control confirmed to ATW that NIKI management transferred the carrier’s air operator’s certificate (AOC) to Austro Control on the evening of Dec. 13. “This move would allow NIKI’s AOC to be re-established very quickly if necessary,” the source said.
Austrian minister of transport Jörg Leichtfried told Austrian TV ORF the government is talking with Austrian Airlines and other carriers to bring passengers home. “We estimate the grounding has affected 5,000 passengers from Austria,” he said.
Austrian Airlines CEO Kay Kratky confirmed the carrier is on standby to provide return flights for stranded passengers.
Several German airlines have offered NIKI passengers so-called “rescue-fares”—if seats are available—at special rates for the return flight to Germany. If a flight was booked with a tour operator as part of a package, the tour operator is responsible for arranging alternative transportation for stranded passengers.
A source from the Austrian travel agency industry told ATW there are 350,000 NIKI tickets affected, which have already been purchased.
Leisure travel group Thomas Cook has confirmed it is interested in buying NIKI. “We are evaluating our options including the purchase of Niki or parts of the airline,” a Thomas Cook spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, NIKI founder Niki Lauda told ATW he is still interested in taking over the insolvent airline. “We have to secure jobs here in Austria and I would like to fly with NIKI again. But I need more information to find out the current status of this complex topic. No one can bid on an airline if you don’t have information,” he said. Asked if he would like to team up again with Condor/Thomas Cook Group for a bid, Lauda said he would prefer to “do it on my own because this [the deal] goes faster.”
Meanwhile, Austrian Airlines confirmed to ATW that it is offering jobs for NIKI employees and launched a special “Fast Track Selection.” Austrian is currently looking for several hundred employees, especially up to 200 ready entry pilots (fully trained pilots) and about 300 flight attendants. The Star Alliance member also has demand for about 50-100 technicians and 20 administrator jobs.
Lufthansa low-cost affiliate Eurowings said Dec. 13 it plans to hire 1,600 additional employees for its growth and offering job opportunities also in Vienna and Salzburg (Austria).