Virgin Atlantic to raise concerns over Aer Lingus sale

Company to warn Dáil committee of ‘significant negative effect’ for consumers

Virgin Atlantic will tell the Dáil Transport Committee that a sale of the State’s share in Aer Lingus will have significant negative effects on connectivity and ticket prices. Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Virgin Atlantic will tell the Dáil Transport Committee that a sale of the State’s share in Aer Lingus will have significant negative effects on connectivity and ticket prices. Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

 

Virgin Atlantic will tell the Dáil transport committee the sale of the State’s shareholding in Aer Lingus to its rival International Airlines Group (IAG) would have a “significant negative effect” on connectivity and ticket prices.

Joe Thompson, director of network and alliances with Virgin Atlantic, will explain why the company is raising concerns about the proposed sale with the European Commission’s competition authority.

Speaking ahead of the meeting on Thursday, a Virgin spokeswoman said: “We are concerned that IAG’s proposed acquisition will have a significant negative effect on consumer choice, the price of airline tickets and the quality of service and connectivity between Ireland, the UK and beyond.”

The spokeswoman said Virgin was watching developments in Ireland with interest. “It is critical that consumers travelling to and from Ireland can continue to benefit from strong and robust competition,” she said.

Aer Lingus remained an important partner to a number of airlines operating out of the UK, including Virgin Atlantic, she added.

“The competition currently provided by these partnerships offers a wide choice of connections to a huge number of customers, something which we believe is important to maintain whatever IAG has planned for Aer Lingus.”

Virgin Atlantic Airways (VAA), controlled by businessman Richard Branson, is a direct competitor of British Airways (BA), the biggest carrier in IAG, which is bidding for the Government’s Aer Lingus stake.

Committee chairman John O’Mahony of Fine Gael said he welcomed the chance to hear from the company.

“I will be asking searching questions. There would be an interpretation of this that the concern for Irish connectivity is to be welcomed but I presume the upper-most concern of any airline is for their shareholders,” he said.

His comments echo those of Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe who recently said “everyone from Richard Branson to Donald Trump” had expressed a view on the possible sale.

Those commenting were “reflecting their own commercial interests”, Mr Donohoe said.

Meanwhile, the committee will give IAG an opportunity to respond to any issues raised by Mr Thompson.

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh has argued 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.