Ryanair's bid for stake in Stansted faces opposition

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The Competition Commission will stamp down on Ryanair's bid to take a 24.9 per cent stake in any consortium that buys Stansted airport.

This would again put the Dublin-based group at odds with regulators, with the European Commission having just launched a probe into Ryanair's third bid in five years for rival Aer Lingus.

Michael O'Leary, the low-cost airline's boss, wants to take a stake in Stansted after a consortium buys the airport from current operator BAA.

The Heathrow-owner has been forced to sell Stansted by the Commission as part of a break-up of what was deemed a monopoly in the South-east.

Ryanair believes that by investing in the group that eventually purchases Stansted, its interests will be better served as the airline that is arguably the airport's anchor tenant.

Mr O'Leary has insisted that he would only be looking for a one-quarter stake, admitting anything greater than that could run into regulatory difficulties. However, the Commission hinted strongly in its earlier investigation into BAA's market dominance that resident airlines could own no more than a tiny slice – perhaps 5 or 10 per cent, according to sources close to the watchdog – of any airport that was later sold.

The fear is that the airline would make decisions that would hurt competitors at the same airport, which in Stansted's case would include easyJet and Thomson Airways. Stansted is expected to fetch more than £1bn.

Last week, Mr O'Leary said that the next runway built in the South-east will be a second at Stansted.