Ryanair hits out at order to sell Aer Lingus stake

Marion Dakers
THE COMPETITION Commission (CC) yesterday said it plans to force Ryanair to sell most of its stake in rival airline Aer Lingus, prompting a furious response from boss Michael O’Leary.

The CC said yesterday that Ryanair must sell its 29.8 per cent stake down to five per cent, confirming its finding in May that the shareholding posed a risk to competition on routes between the UK and Ireland.

“This report by the UK CC is bizarre and manifestly wrong but also entirely expected,” O’Leary blasted yesterday. “This prejudicial approach to an Irish airline is very disturbing, coming from an English government body that regards itself a model competition authority.”

Ryanair plans to appeal to the Competition Appeals Tribunal.

Aer Lingus welcomed the decision. “The Competition Commission should be commended on its thorough investigation and we look forward to the implementation of its findings,” said chairman Colm Barrington.

The CC will wait for the outcome of Ryanair’s appeal against a European Commission ruling on the same topic before imposing its remedies. Analysts said the process could take years.

The other hurdle for the sale is finding a buyer. O’Leary’s company has offered to sell its stake to any firm willing to make a takeover bid for Aer Lingus – a proposal that has so far had no takers.

Etihad, which holds three per cent of Aer Lingus, has been a shareholder for more than a year without expressing interest in making a bid for the rest.

Ryanair, Europe’s biggest airline by passenger numbers, has itself made three attempts to take over Aer Lingus, having built up its stake between 2007 and 2009.

The Irish government, which is also seeking to dispose of its 25 per cent Aer Lingus holding, refused to sell out to Ryanair.