Ryanair-Aer Lingus links investigated

The UK’s Office of Fair Trading today launched a merger investigation in to Ryanair's minority stake in fellow Irish airline Aer Lingus, the Irish Independent reports.

The low-fares carrier owns 29.82 percent of Aer Lingus and previously made a bold bid to buy out the former state airline.

But Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary said he was surprised at the OFT's query into the failed merger offer between two non-UK companies four years ago.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

He revealed it was also three years since the EU Commission investigated and confirmed that Ryanair has no de jure or de facto control over Aer Lingus.

"We have asked our lawyers to liaise directly with the OFT to bring this out of time and unnecessary query to an early conclusion," said Mr O'Leary.

"Ryanair also calls on the OFT to close these queries without delay, and without wasting time or resources on what is clearly a non-existent issue over which the OFT clearly no longer has any jurisdiction."

While listed as Irish companies, both airlines serve customers across the UK.

The OFT said its investigation will initially center on whether it has jurisdiction under the Enterprise Act 2002 to review the acquisition as a relevant merger situation.

If so, it will then probe whether the acquisition raises competition issues that give rise to a duty to refer the acquisition to the Competition Commission. However Ryanair maintains this must be done within four months of a merger.

Aer Lingus said it welcomed the investigation under the UK's merger control legislation.

A spokeswoman said: This investigation follows confirmation by the EU General Court in its decision earlier this year that, while the EU Merger Regulation does not give the EU Commission power to address such minority shareholdings, individual member states remain free to apply their national competition law to Ryanair's shareholding.

"Aer Lingus will cooperate in full with the OFT in this investigation."