European Probe Puts Brakes On Ryanair’s Bid For Aer Lingus

 - September 3, 2012, 8:35 PM
The future ownership of Ireland’s Aer Lingus remains unresolved now that the European Commission is to investigate a takeover bid by low-cost carrier Ryanair.

The European Commission’s August 29 decision to launch a full probe into Ryanair’s proposed takeover of Aer Lingus appears to mean that all bets are off in terms of the long-term ownership of the Irish flag carrier. Under stock market rules, Ryanair’s bid for a majority stake in Aer Lingus automatically expired with the move by regulators, who believe the resulting merger would prove anti-competitive. Ryanair has indicated its willingness to launch a new bid if EC officials clear the takeover after the investigation, which appears likely to run into next year, but anti-trust lawyers consider such an outcome doubtful. The low-cost carrier has sought to persuade other carriers to commit to operating competing services on some of the routes served by both it and Aer Lingus in a bid to establish that competition would still flourish. Aer Lingus, in which the Irish government still holds a 25-percent stake, has claimed that it competes directly with Ryanair on no fewer than 50 routes.

Ryanair’s 29.8-percent holding in Aer Lingus already stands subject to a separate investigation by UK anti-trust officials. Ryanair has argued that the EC’s March 2012 approval of the takeover of UK-based BMI by International Airlines Group (the merged British Airways and Iberia) sets a new legal precedent that ought to make its absorption of Aer Lingus acceptable.

Elsewhere, Japan Airlines (JAL) appears in the midst of a remarkable turnaround since its January 2010 bankruptcy filing. On August 30 the group announced plans to raise up to $8.4 billion through an initial public offering that would see it relisted on the Tokyo stock exchange from September 19. For the financial year ending March 31, 2012, JAL achieved an operating profit of 12.2 percent. The results follow a fundamental restructuring from early 2010 that saw it reshape its route network, restructure its fleet and cut its workforce. In July it launched Jetstar Japan as a new low-cost carrier in partnership with Australia’s Qantas.

Separately, cabin crew at Germany’s Lufthansa took strike action on August 31 in a mounting pay dispute. The action resulted in around 100 canceled flights and unions indicated that they might mount more strikes.