Ryanair offers concessions in EU probe of Aer Lingus deal

 

Brussels

Ryanair Holdings offered concessions to European Union antitrust regulators reviewing its 694 million-euro (£564 million) bid for Irish competitor Aer Lingus.

The EU's antitrust authority said the deadline for ruling on the deal is Feb. 6, according to a website filing Monday that gave no details of Ryanair's offer.

Europe's biggest discount airline, which owns 29.8 percent of Aer Lingus, in June renewed its pursuit to buy the rest of its rival to bolsters its operations in Ireland, five years after the EU agency blocked an earlier takeover attempt because it would create a monopoly for Irish flights. Ryanair's bid has also drawn opposition from Aer Lingus management and Irish politicians.

Stephen McNamara, a spokesman for Ryanair in Dublin, declined to comment on what the airline had offered regulators. Ryanair has met with more than 10 airlines to discuss its offer, he said in a telephone interview.

Ryanair Chief Executive Officer Michael O'Leary said in September that the company would consider selling its Aer Lingus stake if regulators turned down a "revolutionary" package of concessions. The airline has said it could exit all 46 Dublin routes that overlap with Aer Lingus and that several rival carriers are interested in competing at Irish airports.

The Brussels-based European Commission said in August that the takeover could eliminate competition on a large number of routes because the two airlines are each other's closest rivals and few new competitors are likely.

EU regulators blocked Ryanair's bid for Aer Lingus in 2007, saying a takeover would allow the discount airline to dominate 35 routes and control 80 percent of the market in Dublin. Ryanair lost a 2010 appeal of the merger ban.

O'Leary reckons the chances of clearing antitrust hurdles have been boosted by recent mergers among other European carriers, falling traffic in Dublin that leaves room for new entrants and Irish government plans to auction its own 25 percent stake in Aer Lingus.

Ryanair's CEO has pledged to lift Aer Lingus's annual passenger total to 14 million over five years from 9.5 million today and says Ryanair would invest in expanding trans-Atlantic flights.

Ryanair is also facing a full investigation by Britain's Competition Commission of its holding in the smaller carrier after the national regulator said it may lead to higher prices.

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