Ryanair chief to be kingmaker in IAG's Aer Lingus takeover


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The airlines chief Willie Walsh says he is “hopeful” that rival Ryanair would not scupper his €1.4bn (£993m) bid to snap up the Irish carrier Aer Lingus.

Mr Walsh’s IAG, the owner of British Airways and Iberia, received a massive boost to efforts to win Aer Lingus on Tuesday night when the Irish government agreed to sell its 25.1 per cent stake in the national carrier – after extracting assurances on maintaining services between Heathrow and Dublin, Cork and Shannon, maintaining the Aer Lingus brand and keeping it headquartered in Ireland.

But the deal hinges on Ryanair selling up its 29.8 per cent stake in Aer Lingus, a legacy of its three attempts to take over the company dating back to 2007.

That makes Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary a kingmaker in any deal, although the Competition and Markets Authority ordered the firm to cut its stake to 5 per cent in 2013. Ryanair is fighting the decision.

Mr Walsh told analysts: “I’m not relying on Ryanair being forced to sell – we’re clearly conscious of the actions going on between Ryanair and the competition authority in relation to that.

“What I can say is that Ryanair has been consistent in its communication over this, both directly to us and to the public, that it will consider the offer if and when an offer is made.

“We expect the Ryanair board to consider this offer on its merits, which is what they’ve said publicly, and we’re very hopeful that Ryanair will see this as an  attractive offer for their stake in Aer Lingus.

“We will wait to see what Ryanair says in response to this. I’m sure they will wait to see the offer documentation and then give that documentation very, very careful  consideration.”

Mr Walsh also played down competition concerns, saying there was no “significant overlap”.

The company expects EU regulators to make a decision on whether or not to allow the deal to proceed without any conditions by 1 July.

Ryanair said its “position has not changed”, although with its stake valued at more than €400m by IAG’s offer, most analysts expect it to sell up as it swells its existing fleet to handle an expected 100 million passengers this year.

Robin Byde, an analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, said: “Although the company has good access to finance for its large, new B737 aircraft orders, the additional cash would no doubt be welcome and may also accelerate planned buy-backs or further special dividends.”