Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has launched a stinging attack on the UK competition watchdog after it said his budget airline may have to reduce its stake in fellow Irish carrier Aer Lingus.
The Competition Commission (CC) said Ryanair’s stake of almost 30 per cent in its rival could reduce competition on routes between the UK and Ireland and “influence the major strategic decisions that could be crucial to Aer Lingus’s future as a competitive airline on these and other routes”.
Simon Polito, the CC’s deputy chairman, added: “Passengers will benefit from Aer Lingus continuing to compete vigorously with Ryanair, and so Aer Lingus needs to be free to take any actions that will strengthen its position.”
Ryanair has made three attempts to buy Aer Lingus and O’Leary said the competition authority’s provisional finding was “bizarre and manifestly wrong”, arguing that the European Commission recently found that competition between the two has “intensified” since 2007.
He added: “A decision by the CC that Ryanair’s 29.8 per cent stake in Aer Lingus may lead to a lessening of competition will clearly breach the EU treaty duty of sincere co-operation between the EU and the UK.
“Ryanair therefore calls on the CC to abide by this overriding legal principle and end this bogus and baseless enquiry.”
O’Leary also noted that Ryan-air’s investment had not prevented Etihad Airways from taking a 3 per cent stake in Aer Lingus last year.
The regulator’s final report is expected by 11 July, and a spokesman for Aer Lingus said it “looks forward to continuing to assist the UK Competition Commission in its investigation into the anti-competitive effects of Ryanair’s minority shareholding”.