Lufthansa to buy remaining 55% of Brussels Airlines

Berlin (AFP) - German carrier Lufthansa on Wednesday said it would buy the 55 percent of Brussels Airlines it does not already own, completing a long-mooted takeover and stepping up its battle against low-cost rivals.

Shareholders in Brussels Airlines must still agree to the deal, the statement said, adding that managers expect to complete the transaction by early 2017.

Lufthansa has owned 45 percent of Brussels Airlines owner SN Airholding since 2009 and kept an option to buy the rest from around 30 remaining shareholders.

The companies did not reveal the price Lufthansa would pay for the remaining stake.

The Belgian carrier returned to profitability for the first time in years in 2015.

Lufthansa has previously said that it would add Brussels' 49-aircraft fleet to its own Eurowings low-cost offering, as chief executive Carsten Spohr builds the brand up for a Europe-wide battle with rivals Ryanair and EasyJet.

A deadline for the German giant's final decision, originally set for June this year at the latest, was pushed back to September after Brussels airport was hit by deadly twin suicide bombings on March 22.

Brussels Airlines said in a statement it was in talks with Lufthansa to receive assurances that key operations would remain in Belgium.

"The objective of the ongoing discussions between Lufthansa and Brussels Airlines is to keep the specifics of Brussels Airlines and to ensure the growth of its activities by keeping employment in Belgium," it said.

The talks would resume in October, it added.

Belgian media have reported that due to a technicality, Lufthansa could snap up the remainder of the airline for as little as 2.6 million euros -- because Brussels Airlines still owes the German carrier an outstanding debt of 45 million euros.

"This is without doubt a bargain," said respected Dutch-language daily De Standaard, likening it to handing over "the crown jewels for a steal".

Lufthansa paid 65 million euros for the initial 45-percent stake in the Belgian carrier in 2008.