Walsh dismisses Virgin remarks

Virgin Atlantic comments no indication of interest in Irish market, says IAG boss

Ruth Curran of Merc Partners with Willie Walsh, chief executive of  International Airlines Group. Mr Walsh said it would be “very interesting” if Virgin appeared before the Oireachtas committee. Photograph:  Angela Halpin

Ruth Curran of Merc Partners with Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group. Mr Walsh said it would be “very interesting” if Virgin appeared before the Oireachtas committee. Photograph: Angela Halpin

 

International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh says rival Virgin Atlantic has no interest in the Irish market, despite its intervention in the debate over his company’s €1.36 billion bid for Aer Lingus.

The Richard Branson-controlled airline recently asked EU competition regulators how consumers would be protected from a “lack of competition” on Irish air routes if the deal goes ahead. It voiced similar concerns to those of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications.

Speaking after addressing a Merc Partners business breakfast in Dublin yesterday, Mr Walsh said it would be “very interesting” if Virgin appeared before the Oireachtas committee to explain its interest in the Republic’s market.

“They don’t fly here, as far as I am concerned and am aware, they’ve never shown any interest in flying into Ireland or serving the Irish market,” he said.

“It would be great if they did, but that’s not their track record, and given that Virgin is effectively controlled by Delta, you’ve got Delta flying into Dublin and Shannon, so I can’t see Virgin doing that.”

Clashes

British Airways

He agreed that Virgin’s comments are aimed more at the EU Commission’s competition law directorate, which would have to approve any deal, than at the Republic’s politicians.

“It’s not unusual for Virgin to see if they can get something out of the process,” he said.

A Coalition decision on whether or not to sell the State’s 25.1 per cent stake in Aer Lingus could take at least another two weeks. Sources say that, at the earliest, it will be the first post-Easter Cabinet meeting in 14 days’ time, before the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe, will be able to make any recommendation to his Government colleagues.

IAG representatives and senior officials from a number of Government departments are continuing with negotiations. IAG needs to guarrantee services between the Republic and London’s Heathrow Airport for longer than the five years to which Mr Walsh has already committed. Mr Walsh said that he was not taking part in those meetings and was in Dublin to honour a long-standing commitment to Merc Partners. He would not comment on the progress of the discussions.

‘Fully supportive’

IAG owns BA and Spanish airlines, Iberia and Vueling. Mr Walsh has pledged that should Aer Lingus become part of the group, it would keep its own brand and management.

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