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Lauda bids for Austria carrier Niki, Ryanair steps away

BERLIN/VIENNA (Reuters) - Former motor racing driver Niki Lauda has made a bid for Austrian holiday airline Niki, but Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair <RYA.I> and a consortium of family-owned logistics firm Zeitfracht and maintenance group Nayak decided against an offer, they said.

"I can confirm that Niki Lauda handed in an offer (for Niki)," his spokeswoman said, declining to say how much he offered or whether he had teamed up with anyone.

Niki, unit of Air Berlin, filed for insolvency last week after Germany's Lufthansa <LHAG.DE> backed out of a deal due to competition concerns, grounding the airline's fleet and stranding thousands of passengers.

Niki's administrators, who had asked for binding offers by Thursday, will assess the offers and present a proposal at a creditors' meeting on Friday, one of the administrators said.

"I hope that there will be a decision, or at least a decision in a certain direction, during the meeting," Lucas Floether told Austrian broadcaster ORF.

Ryanair decided not to bid because there was "insufficient clarity about Lufthansa aircraft leases to Niki which we couldn't resolve in time," the Irish carrier said in an emailed statement.

Lufthansa, which still plans to buy other parts of Air Berlin, has already arranged with lessors to take on some of the Niki planes, which has drawn criticism from Lauda.

Lufthansa has said that it will honour conditions set out by the European Commission under which it must transfer planes to any alternative Niki purchaser, whether by transferring planes it has already leased to the buyer or offering to lease or sell planes it has purchased.

A spokesman for Zeitfracht said that while it wasn't bidding, it still wanted to cooperate with whoever ends up buying the unit of collapsed Air Berlin, without providing details.

Other interested parties include tour operator Thomas Cook <TCG.L> and Swiss carrier PrivatAir. Sources have told Reuters that British Airways parent IAG <ICAG.L> is also interested.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle, Victoria Bryan, Klaus Lauer; Editing by Maria Sheahan)