Sources say Abu Dhabi-based airline is close to hiring advisors to look into options for its stake in German carrier
Etihad Airways is close to hiring financial advisers to look into strategic options for its stake in Air Berlin, including a potential sale, people familiar with the matter said.
The plan is part of a broader review into its equity holdings in struggling airlines, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. No final decisions have been made and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad may still decide to keep its holding, they said.
A representative for Etihad declined to comment. A representative for Air Berlin declined to comment and referred questions to Etihad.
Air Berlin has a market capitalization of about 109 million euros ($122 million), valuing Etihad’s stake at 32 million euros. Its total exposure, including loans and bond purchases, is much higher, at close to 2 billion euros. Etihad acquired 29.2 percent in Air Berlin in 2011, and has had to bail out the airline several times.
Etihad is reviewing its airline partnerships after spending billions keeping Air Berlin and Alitalia afloat. The Italian carrier slid into bankruptcy this month after workers rejected a restructuring plan involving 1,600 job losses. European regulation bars foreign companies from owning a majority stake in the continent’s airlines.
Deutsche Lufthansa Chief Executive Officer Carsten Spohr hinted this month that he’d be willing to buy Air Berlin to help expand his company’s low-cost operations if it was able to improve its cost base and financial stability.
Air Berlin is currently cutting back its fleet, trying to transform into a network airline. The company agreed to lease 38 aircraft that operated its European point-to-point business to Lufthansa, and brokered a deal to move about 20 jets to a leisure business that TUI and Etihad had formed. The company is sitting on a pile of 1.12 billion euros in net debt, and its equity amounts to a negative 1.78 billion euros.
The German company published a record loss for 2016 last month, and Etihad granted the airline 350 million euros in new funds plus a letter of support promising to cover its financial obligations for the next 18 months.
Etihad this month replaced Chief Executive Officer James Hogan, the architect of the carrier’s bets on under-performing airlines, and named an interim CEO to take the reins even before Hogan’s July 1 departure date.