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Lufthansa kicks off Air Berlin approval process with EU

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Lufthansa kicks off Air Berlin approval process with EU

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BERLIN (Reuters) – Lufthansa <LHAG.DE> has begun the European approval process for its takeover of large parts of insolvent Air Berlin <AB1.DE>. The deal has come under fire from airlines and consumer groups who fear it will give Lufthansa dominance of German domestic routes and in Austria. A spokesman for Lufthansa said on Wednesday it had notified the European Commission, which was not immediately available for comment, and expected a decision to be taken in December. Lufthansa last month said it planned to acquire Air Berlin units Niki and LG Walter, plus additional aircraft in a deal that will grow its fleet by 81 aircraft. The purchase price is 210 million euros (£184 million) but Lufthansa expects to invest around 1.5 billion euros in total, including paying for the planes and other items such as staff training and repainting planes. The group is hoping for a so-called Phase I approval from the European Commission, without an in-depth review, so that the deal can close in January and it can start using the Air Berlin capacity, CEO Carsten Spohr said last week. After notification, the Commission has 25 working days to analyse deals during a Phase I investigation. According to that timetable, that would take it to Dec. 7, although it may be extended by another two weeks to Dec. 21 should Lufthansa provide concessions. Spohr said he expected that, as with Lufthansa’s previous takeovers, it will have to give up take-off and landing slots in order to gain approval for the Air Berlin deal. Britain’s easyJet <EZJ.L> is also taking on some Air Berlin operations at Tegel airport.

(Reporting by Victoria Bryan, Foo Yun Chee and Ilona Wissenbach; Editing by Alexander Smith)
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