Austria's Niki Lauda sells airline to Air Berlin
Former Austrian Formula One champion Niki Lauda announced Tuesday he was selling all his remaining shares in his low-cost airline Niki to its German partner Air Berlin.
"Air Berlin hereby takes over 100 percent of Niki," Lauda told a joint press conference in Vienna with the chief of Germany's second biggest airline, Hartmut Mehdorn.
Lauda previously owned 50.1 percent in his airline.
"Air Berlin and Niki have been working together successfully as partners for years," noted Mehdorn.
"This profound collaboration with Niki opens new perspectives precisely with regards to boosting our hub in Vienna," he said, with particular emphasis on growth in eastern Europe.
The move will have little effect on passengers as Niki will continue to operate under its name, Mehdorn added.
"Niki remains Niki as a brand," he said.
The low-cost airline will also legally remain an autonomous Austrian company with its own management.
Lauda will join Air Berlin's board as non-executive director in December and said he would "continue to keep an eye on Niki. I am responsible for Niki."
The Austrian airline employs some 800 people and has reported sales of 337.4 million euros so far this year, carrying 3.4 million passengers.
Air Berlin on the other hand has been in the red since 2008 and has embarked on a cost-reduction programme, cutting its fleet.
Air Berlin acquired 24 percent of Niki in September 2004, before increasing its share to 49.9 percent in July 2010.
© 2011 AFP