Ryanair may take stake in Charleroi

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The Independent Online

Ryanair would consider taking a small minority stake in Brussels Charleroi airport if it is privatised, Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of the no-frills Irish airline, said yesterday.

Mr O'Leary stressed, however, that it would be a short-term measure designed to reassure private investors that it was committed to the airport. The aim would be to take a stake of 5-10 per cent and then sell it back within two years.

His comments came as Ryanair launched another two new bases in Europe, at Rome's Ciampino airport and Girona Barcelona airport, taking the number of European bases to 11. It also announced the launch of 13 new routes from the two new Continental bases, taking its route network to 146.

Ryanair is waiting on a formal ruling from the European Commission, which is expected to declare that some of the subsidies it receives to fly to Charleroi amount to illegal state aid. The decision is not now expected until next month.

Mr O'Leary said one of the ways of getting around the ruling would be for the owner of Charleroi, the Walloon government, to privatise it. "If it required some measure from us to reassure investors then, yes, in principle, we would be prepared to take a 5-10 per cent stake."

Other options open to Ryanair would be to negotiate a compromise with the Commission, appeal against the decision or withdraw from Charleroi, said Mr O'Leary.

Ryanair expects Rome and Barcelona to add 3 million passengers to its network next year, helping it to increase total numbers to between 29 and 30 million. The airline will operate a further 10 new Boeing 737-800s from the two new bases, taking the total fleet to 88 aircraft.

Mr O'Leary said the launch of the two new bases proved that the airline has huge scope for expansion. "There has been far too much inaccurate speculation that the EU investigation will bring an end to Ryanair's growth. It won't," he said.