If the office decides Ryanair’s shareholding results in a realistic prospect of a substantial lessening of competition, then it will pass the matter on to the Competition Commission.
The commission could ultimately force Ryanair to sell some or all of its 29.8% holding in Aer Lingus, if it deems the holding is likely to result in less competition.
Aer Lingus has welcomed the decision of the court to allow the investigation to go ahead. A spokesperson for the airline said the decision that the OFT was not out of time to investigate Ryanair’s stake in Aer Lingus was good for consumers and shareholders.
“The Supreme Court’s decision brings to an end Ryanair’s challenge to the validity of the OFT’s decision to commence its investigation into Ryanair’s minority shareholding in September 2010. The OFT can now proceed swiftly to complete its investigation into Ryanair’s shareholding which is contrary to the interests of consumers and the majority of Aer Lingus’s shareholders,” the airline’s spokesperson said.
Christoph Mueller, Aer Lingus chief executive, has previously described the situation as unacceptable and even anti-competitive.
“It is unacceptable that our principal competitor has been allowed to remain as a significant shareholder on our share register even though the European Commission blocked their hostile takeover almost five years ago. This intolerable situation cannot be allowed to continue,” he said.
Ryanair has said that there is no reason why it should be forced to sell any of its share in Aer Lingus. Its holding in the airline has previously been probed by the EU Competition Commission in 2007.
It found Ryanair has neither de facto or de jure control in Aer Lingus and concluded they could not be forced to sell down their holdings.
Ryanair’s Stephen McNamara said the OFT probe would achieve little more than wasting money.
“Since Aer Lingus has spent six years ignoring Ryanair’s shareholding, this UK OFT investigation is yet another bureaucratic waste of UK taxpayers’ funds and resources,” he said.