There's more to a proposed purchase of a German commuter airport by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s NetJets division than just finding a place to land, according to Bloomberg News. NetJets' offer to buy the airport in Egelsbach for $4.9 million comes after Lufthansa, Europe's second-largest airline, ended a one-year partnership with NetJets early last year and began buying private jets to offer services on its own.
That puts Lufthansa in competition with NetJets' "fractional ownership" business, which sells time on its corporate jets. Berkshire Chief Executive Warren Buffett visited Germany last year during a tour of countries that might have businesses Berkshire could buy.
Lufthansa is based at Frankfurt's international airport, about six miles from the Egelsbach airport.
NetJets pledged to invest $38 million to extend the runway, add equipment for instrument landings and make other improvements. It would move its German office there from Munich.
The airport has been losing money and is owned by surrounding towns and utilities. Last week the town council of Egelsbach, which has an 11 percent share, agreed to the sale. The town's parliament and other local governments are to vote by early March.
But there are opponents. Harald Esser, a local official who lives a few hundred meters from the airport, told Bloomberg, "The noise and pollution would make the town unlivable."
He said jets at the airport fly so close to his house that his 6-year-old playing in the garden once began screaming uncontrollably from the shock.
Local residents have formed a protest group and plan street demonstrations and a referendum against the sale.
NetJets would increase the number of flights at the airport to 100,000 a year from 80,000.
The airport's owners paid more than $650,000 last year to keep the airport open. Unless they spend just as much this year or sell the airport, it faces bankruptcy.
Airport officials have said the sale "would be an ideal way to maintain the airport as a prime location for business flights and to develop it further." The airport, built in the 1950s as a competition site for model airplanes, has 400 employees and houses more than 200 private airplanes.
'THIS IS A NIGHTMARE': Buffett recently sent this message about the economy to his friend and business associate Microsoft founder Bill Gates:
"This is a nightmare, which will pass away with the morning. For the resources of nature and men's devices are just as fertile and productive as they were. The rate of our progress towards solving the material problems of life is not less rapid.
"We are as capable as before of affording for everyone a high standard of life -- high, I mean, compared with, say, twenty years ago -- and will soon learn to afford a standard higher still. We were not previously deceived.
"But today we have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand.
"The result is that our possibilities of wealth may run to waste for a time -- perhaps for a long time."
It's an excerpt from an essay by economist John Maynard Keynes titled, "The Great Slump of 1930."
Gates and his wife, Melinda, went to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week to encourage business and government leaders to continue efforts to help the poor.
He told the Associated Press that Buffett's $30-plus billion pledge to the Gates Foundation "was an incredible thing" and already has helped farmers in poor countries and expanded financial services such as micro-loans to the poor.
"We just feel so blessed that we've got Warren not only giving but also as a trustee so we've got his advice and his help," Gates said. "We'll just make sure to take his resources and ours and use them in the best way possible."
JOB CUTS: Berkshire division Johns Manville of Denver said it will lay off 100 hourly workers at its 500-employee manufacturing complex in Waterville, Ohio, about April 1 because of declining orders.
The workers produce fiberized glass for insulation, auto parts and other uses, Bloomberg reported.
PETER ON BOARD: Former Omahan Peter Buffett, Warren's youngest son, is on the "board of creators" of a Palo Alto, Calif., company called Tonic that offers "effortless activism and social good."
The company, headed by Pankaj Shah, is developing a Web site to sell T-shirts, coffee mugs, bracelets and other items that are "eco-friendly" and made following the principles of "fair trade and fair labor."
"Tonic is defined by the philosophy that people want to do good things but need an easy way to do them," says a prototype of its Web site, due to go active this month.
Others on the board include designer Donna Karan, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and Ellen Siminoff, a founding director of Yahoo.
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