BERLIN (AP) — Germany on Wednesday rejected a claim by budget airline Ryanair that a government loan for rival Air Berlin as part of its bankruptcy proceedings amounted to a "conspiracy" to keep the airline afloat until a new owner is found.
The Irish airline lodged a complaint with European Union competition authorities after Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy protection and then got a 150 million euro ($177 million) loan from the German government.
Ryanair said late Tuesday there's "an obvious conspiracy" between the German government, Lufthansa and Air Berlin. The loan will help Air Berlin to keep flights running for the next three months, while it is negotiating a possible deal with Lufthansa and another unnamed carrier, reported by German media to be easyJet.
A spokeswoman for Germany's Economy Ministry said it was "absurd" to claim that the rescue package had been staged. Beate Baron told reporters in Berlin that the government expects the loan to Germany's second-largest airline to be repaid.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also defended the government's loan for Air Berlin in an interview with four prominent German YouTube users.
Merkel said it would not have been appropriate to leave tens of thousands of travelers stranded at vacation resorts, "because the airline would not have been able to pay for the fuel" and the plane tickets would have no longer been usable.
Usually, when an airline files for bankruptcy in Germany, planes need to be grounded immediately and all further operations are stopped.
Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday after its main shareholder, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, said it would make no more financing available following years of unsuccessful turnaround attempts.
The airline, which carries some 80,000 people a day mostly on short-haul destinations, made a loss of about 782 million euros last year.