The chief executive of budget airliner Ryanair has said it will appeal against today's report from the UK Competition Commission’s (UKCC) saying that its minority shareholding in Aer Lingus has led to a "substantial lessening of competition" between the airlines on routes between the UK and Ireland.
The UKCC said this morning that Ryanair will have to reduce its 29.8 per cent stake in Aer Lingus to just five per cent.
The company said that, under EU law, the UKCC cannot contradict or reach different conclusions to the European Commission – which Ryanair said had recently found that competition between the two companies has at least persisted, if not increased, since 2007.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said:
This report by the UKCC is bizarre and manifestly wrong but also entirely expected. From the first meeting with the UKCC it has been clear to us that Simon Polito’s and Roger Davis’ minds had been made up in advance and no truth or evidence was going to get in the way of their story. This prejudicial approach to an Irish airline is very disturbing, coming from an English government body that regards itself a model competition authority….
While Ryanair is one of the UK’s largest airlines, Aer Lingus has a tiny presence in the UK, serving just 6 routes to the Republic of Ireland, a traffic base that has declined over the past 3 years and now accounts for less than 1% of all UK air traffic. This case, involving two Irish airlines where one (Aer Lingus) accounts for less than 1% of the UK’s total air traffic and concerns very few UK consumers, is yet another enormous waste of UK taxpayer resources from a body which took no action whatsoever when the two main UK airlines (BA and bmi) merged. It would appear to be a case of one rule for the UK airlines but an invented set of rules for two Irish airlines.
In February 2013 the European Commission found that competition between Ryanair and Aer Lingus has “intensified” since 2007. The UKCC’s failure to accept this finding is a breach of its legal duty of sincere cooperation between the UK and the EU competition authorities and will form the basis for Ryanair’s appeal against this bizarre and manifestly unsound ruling, which our lawyers will lodge with the Competition Appeal Tribunal in the coming weeks.