Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary reacted furiously today as he was told to abandon his seven-year attempt to take over rival Aer Lingus.
The Competition Commission today said the no-frills airline must slash its stake in Aer Lingus from 29.8 per cent to just 5 per cent because it meant less competition on flights between Great Britain and Ireland.
Ryanair immediately said that it will appeal against “this bizarre and manifestly unsound ruling”.
O’Leary launched an extraordinary attack on the inquiry’s chairman Simon Polito and member Roger Davis. He said: “Polito’s and Davis’ ignoring of evidence, their conduct of a manifestly unfair investigation, their omission of all the substantial body of evidence that conclusively disproves their case, and their rejection of Ryanair’s unprecedented undertakings (which patently address their three invented future concerns), all in a misguided pursuit of their predetermined conclusion, demonstrate that this process was not a competition investigation but merely a corrupt and politically biased charade.”
He added the inquiry was “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”.
Going to the Appeals Tribunal could take another three or four months. After that the Competition Commission would appoint a Divesture Trustee with a timetable to oversee the sale of the shares.
Ryanair first bought a stake in Aer Lingus in 2006 and launched a full takeover bid that year. That was blocked by the European Commission, as was another bid in 2012.
Aer Lingus chairman Colm Barrington said: “The Commission should be commended on its thorough investigation and we look forward to the implementation of its findings.”
Polito said he was particularly concerned that Ryanair’s significant stake could be used to block Aer Lingus’ merging with or being taken over by another airline.
He added: “Ryanair proposed various remedies to us in an attempt to address our specific concerns. In a dynamic and uncertain sector, however, it is inherently difficult to design remedies that would cater for all eventualities.”
The last time the Commission ordered a share stake sale was in 2008 when it told BSkyB to cut its holding in ITV from 17.9 per cent to 7.5 per cent.