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Air Berlin set for final farewell as carve-up talks continue

[BERLIN] After almost four decades of flying, Air Berlin's last flight is due to land in its home city on Friday night while its administrators push to split its remaining assets among buyers.

Air Berlin, beloved among Germans for its flights to holiday island Mallorca and the chocolate hearts it gives out after each flight, filed for administration in August. A government loan kept its planes in the air during negotiations on its carve-up.

The company has already agreed to sell a large part of its airline assets to domestic rival Lufthansa, and talks on other operations are taking place with Britain's easyJet and with Thomas Cook's German airline Condor.

"I expect that we can hopefully reach a deal in the coming days, so that we can possibly save a thousand more jobs," administrator Frank Kebekus said on Friday on German TV programme Morgenmagazin.

Others are eyeing the gap left by Air Berlin. IAG, which owns British Airways, said it saw opportunities for its Vueling budget brand in Germany.

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Air Berlin was founded nearly 40 years ago by US pilot Kim Lundgren, taking advantage of the fact that at that time only carriers based in Britain, France or the United States were permitted to fly to Berlin. The first flight took off from Berlin's Tegel airport for Palma de Mallorca on April 28, 1979.

After German reunification, entrepreneur Joachim Hunold acquired a majority stake in the carrier and quickly grew Air Berlin via acquisitions.

But the airline never fully integrated those purchases and the expansion left it laden with debt. The rise of low-cost carriers in Europe, and Lufthansa's strength in Germany, added to pressure and meant it struggled to turn a profit.

Financial support from major shareholder Etihad kept it afloat over the last few years, but the Abu Dhabi-based carrier pulled the plug in August, leaving the fate of around 8,000 staff and thousands of customers in the balance.

With around 30 million passengers a year, Air Berlin was much larger than Britain's Monarch, which collapsed at the start of this month and had carried 5.7 million in 2015.

Air Berlin's last flight is AB6210, departing Munich at 1935 GMT and due to land in Berlin Tegel at 2045. The airport is keeping its viewing platform open until midnight and offering free entry to all those interested in watching the arrival.


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