Lufthansa in talks with Lauda Air

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GERMANY'S national airline, Lufthansa, is negotiating to take a majority stake in Lauda Air, the private Austrian carrier belonging to the ex-Formula One racing champion, Niki Lauda, writes John Eisenhammer. Lufthansa already owns just under 27 per cent of Lauda Air through its charter subsidiary, Condor.

Talks are believed to be going on between the two companies about doubling Lufthansa's stake. Mr Lauda has already swapped his 36 per cent share in the travel agent, Itas, which markets Lauda Air in Austria, for the agency's 26 per cent stake in his airline, according to a German magazine report. The report said Mr Lauda intends to sell this 26 per stake on to Condor, giving the Lufthansa subsidiary a holding of nearly 53 per cent.

Through its links with Lauda Air, Lufthansa has been seeking to strengthen its position in Austria. This strategy has become all the more important since the collapse late last year of attempts to set up the Alcazar co-operation agreement with several European carriers, including Austrian Airlines.

Lauda Air, which has developed a strong name for competitively priced long-haul flights, was started 14 years ago by Mr Lauda, following his withdrawal from motor racing.

Lufthansa, which is 51 per cent state-owned, swung heavily into the red in 1991 and has been aggressively cutting costs since.