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Ex-race ace Lauda's reclaimed, rebranded airline targets 2019 profit

Niki Lauda addresses a news conference presenting his new airline Laudamotion in Vienna, Austria March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

VIENNA (Reuters) - Niki Lauda aims to turn a profit from next year with Laudamotion, the airline he has rebranded after buying it back from insolvent Air Berlin, the ex-motor racing champion said on Friday.

The former Niki airline, which he founded in 2003, will begin operations under its new name on March 25 with six leased aircraft. Its first flight will be from Duesseldorf, Germany, to Palma de Mallorca.

"You cannot expect to make money in the first year. But if you make it right, you should start earning money from the second year on," Lauda a news conference in Vienna.

The three-times Formula One champion pipped British Airways owner IAG <ICAG.L> to win the bidding for Niki in January, initially investing around 50 million euros (£44.09 million) and then more to relaunch operations.

Lauda said he will add flights from Switzerland from April and from Austria from June, expanding the fleet to 21 planes. The carrier will fly to holiday destinations in Greece, Spain and Italy in summer and add city shuttles and charter flights later this year.

"Shuttles at the right price with the right product plus charter flights, this is what we need and my goal is to implement that from autumn," he said.

Of the 60,000 takeoff and landing slots he bought as Niki assets only 40,000 were needed, and he will return 20,000.

The 69-year old Austrian has a deal in place for German holiday airline Condor, part of Thomas Cook <TCG.L>, to sell flights for Laudamotion and provide marketing and crew planning.

It is as yet unclear how a cooperation planned with Lufthansa <LHAG.DE> could be organised.

He said talks he and Lufthansa were holding with the Austrian regulator on Friday should shed some light on whether the German carrier's budget unit Eurowings could also sell Laudamotion flights, and whether it could lease back planes from Laudamotion including crew.

"We need to know what is allowed and what is not," he said.

Lauda, under time pressure to sell tickets for the summer, is keen to tap his rival's sales and marketing channels, while Lufthansa, which scrapped a plan to buy Niki due to European Commission concerns, wants to make use of Laudation's capacity.

Laudamotion currently has 641 staff and needs to hire about 50 additional flight attendants to operate the 21 planes, Lauda said.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by John Stonestreet)