German challenger to Ryanair and easyJet
A rival to the low-fare dominance of Ryanair and easyJet emerged out of Germany today, as Air Berlin, Europe's third largest no-frills airline, flew into the arms of the Thomas Cook group and merged with the travel firm's regional carrier.
Thomas Cook announced it is taking a 29.9% stake in the Frankfurt-based carrier, which has a strong presence at London's Stansted airport. As part of the deal, Air Berlin will merge with Thomas Cook's majority-owned German-based low fair flyer Condor.
'The combination of Condor with Air Berlin creates a formidable competitor among German airlines and one of the leading low fare airlines in Europe,' said Thomas Cook's join chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa. Thomas Cook's tie-up with Air Berlin, which is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, is the latest move in the fastconsolidating European travel industry.
Despite its big name on the British High Street, Thomas Cook has been a long time in German ownership. It floated on the London stock market in the summer after its merger with the troubled MyTravel. At the same time, the travel agents' great rival Tui - the German company which owns the British brand Thomson Holidays - took over First Choice.
Air Berlin's merger with Condor is its third deal in a year. The summer of 2006 saw the airline take over DBA, the former German subsidiary of British Airways, and this year it bought another German operator, LTU.