UK watchdog may make final ruling on Ryanair’s Aer Lingus stake next month
Ryanair says it will sell shares if another offer Gets 50.1% acceptances from Aer Lingus
Ryanair said it was making the offer to dispel the commission’s “unfounded and invented concern” that its stake could prevent another EU airline from acquiring Aer Lingus. Photograph: The Irish Times
The UK’s competition watchdog may accelerate its final ruling on Ryanair’s near 30 per cent stake in Aer Lingus, which the airline yesterday offered to sell to another EU airline but only if it succeeded in getting 50.1 per cent of Aer Lingus shareholders to accept an offer for the carrier.
A spokeswoman for the Competition Commission confirmed yesterday that there is a possibility it could publish its final ruling on the issue in August, several weeks before a September deadline set last month.
Following an investigation into the impact on competition between the two on routes between Ireland and Britain, the commission proposed that Ryanair should be ordered to sell all or part of the stake.
Its provisional position is that Ryanair’s 29.8 per cent stake is likely to weaken Aer Lingus, its main rival on routes between the two countries, and reduce competition between the pair. It also found that it could prevent other EU rivals from acquiring Aer Lingus.
Ryanair has already warned that it will challenge any attempt to force it to sell the stake in the UK Competition Appeals Tribunal and, if necessary, in the British courts. Yesterday the airline said it was willing to sell the stake if another EU airline succeeded in getting 50.1 per cent of Aer Lingus shareholders to accept an offer for the carrier.
Ryanair said it was making the offer to dispel the commission’s “unfounded and invented concern” that its stake could prevent another EU airline from acquiring Aer Lingus.
The airline added that the remedy was “without prejudice” to its objections to the commission’s conclusion that Ryanair has influence over Aer Lingus’s commercial strategy, and that its stake has lessened competition between the two.
Ryanair argued that, as the commission’s own provisional report found no evidence that competition between the two had lessened, its only remaining concern was that the 29.8 per cent stake might prevent another carrier from buying Aer Lingus.
Ryanair spokesman Robin Kiely claimed its offer “fatally undermined” that claim. The commission did not comment.
The commission published its provisional findings at the end of May following an 11-month enquiry into the relationship between the two airlines.
Along with direct competition concerns, it found Ryanair’s stake allowed it to block special resolutions, potentially hinder any bid to raise capital and prevent its rival from selling its valuable slots at Heathrow Airport.
It originally said it would publish its final ruling this month, but subsequently extended that to September.