Formula One Champ Niki Lauda Rescues Airline Named After Him

(Bloomberg) -- 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 SA.

Lauda made the best offer for Niki Luftfahrt GmbH, the Vienna-based leisure carrier that was left insolvent following the collapse of its parent Air Berlin Plc, an Austrian insolvency administrator said in a statement Tuesday.

Formula One Champ Niki Lauda Rescues Airline Named After Him

Niki was grounded in December after Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which had helped keep it afloat, pulled out of the bidding amid European Union antitrust concerns. IAG later said that German insolvency officials had picked it to buy Niki’s assets for its Barcelona-based Vueling discount arm, only to be thwarted after a court appeal saw jurisdiction transferred to Austrian authorities.

Lauda, a three-time F1 champion who came close to death when his Ferrari race-car crashed and burst into flames at the 1976 German Grand Prix, is now in pole position to regain Niki after Laudamotion GmbH was selected to buy the carrier following a creditor vote. No purchase price was given.

Niki had about 20 Airbus SE A321 aircraft and 850 staff before being grounded. Lauda will be able to restart operations in March, Austrian Transport Minister Norbert Hofer told ORF radio. The racer-turned-entrepreneur had teamed up with Thomas Cook Group Plc’s German airline Condor for an earlier bid, and the tour operator said Tuesday it will enter discussions about providing support services for Niki with a view to buying seats from the revived carrier.

IAG, which originally bid 20 million euros ($24 million) plus 16 million pounds 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 BA and Vueling, according to a statement.

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.

The F1 ace earlier ran Lauda Air, which operated a variety of leisure routes from the mid-1980s before merging into Lufthansa’s Austrian Airlines business.

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