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Air Berlin ends Oct. 28, news soon on Alitalia


Europe's two major airline casualty stories are nearing their end. Air Berlin, with no take-over partner in sight will end all operations by Oct. 28. By that time, we may also know the fate of Italy's Alitalia, with final bids due by Oct. 16.

While Air Berlin will stop flying, Niki, its Austrian sometime subsidiary, sometime partner that flies leisure routes mainly from Europe to North Africa, will continue operating, partly in partnership with TUIfly, another leisure carrier. Lufthansa and EasyJet are among the bidders for Air Berlin's planes and landing slots, but are not interested in a complete acquisition.

Alitalia, meanwhile, continues to be the subject of speculation, The airline, currently administered by bankruptcy officials, extended the deadline for final bids from Oct. 2 to Oct. 16, and the results should be known shortly afterwards. One of the leading bidders, Ryanair, dropped out after its own scheduling and cancellation problems became the big story.

Ryanair is already Italy's biggest domestic carrier and international carrier, followed by EasyJet in international traffic. Overall, Alitalia has about 9% of Italy's international traffic, compared to Lufthansa's 37% in Germany and Air France's 24% in France. Those figures make it a less attractive as an operating airline than as a source of planes and route permissions.

Nevertheless, there are some analysts who believe that Lufthansa or perhaps a Chinese bidder or even Norwegian Airlines might have a bid in that bag. Lufthansa already operates the flag carriers of Belgium, Switzerland and Austria as well as Germany.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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A deal to be signed today, Oct. 12, will give Lufthansa the right to buy 80 of Air Berlin's planes—the most that could be approved by competition authorities—and will provide Lufthansa jobs for about 3,000 of Air Berlin's 8500 employees.

While waiting for official transfer approvals, many routes represented by the planes will continue to be flown by Air Berlin crew with Air Berlin acting as a subcontractor for Lufthansa; by Oct. 28 it will no longer be allowed to operate flights of its own.

It's expected there will be a deal soon with the other accepted bidder, EasyJet, for another group of AB planes, mostly mid-range jets. It's not clear how many jobs might go with the planes. 

The pairing of jobs and planes is based on two factors: along with the planes, the two airlines are acquiring precious landing and take-off spots at crowded German airports, and will operate many of the same routes Air Berlin is leaving. The Air Berlin workers most likely to emerge with jobs are the pilots; there is a world-wide shortage of qualified pilots, which affects airline operations and expansion opportunities.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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