Talking to reporters in Dublin yesterday morning — after addressing a conference held by executive search firm, MERC Partners — Mr Walsh said he recognised that some parties are keen to get the IAG/Aer Lingus issue resolved, one way or another, as soon as possible and that a long drawn out process could be a slight distraction for Aer Lingus’ management.
However, he opined that the process hasn’t been ongoing for that long, saying “it’s only been a couple of months, in my opinion”.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe, who has said he wants the matter sorted sooner rather than later, is expected to present a recommendation regarding the future ownership of Aer Lingus to Cabinet in around a fortnight’s time.
Despite ongoing meetings between IAG and the Government, Mr Walsh said yesterday that he had “nothing scheduled”, meeting-wise, during his current visit here.
He declined to comment when asked if he had become more confident about a takeover succeeding, but he did repeat his feelings that Aer Lingus would be “a perfect fit” within an enlarged IAG group, which already contains British Airways, Iberia and Spanish low-cost carrier, Vueling.
Mr Walsh also made no comment about Aer Lingus’ Heathrow landing slots, which IAG is reportedly prepared to safeguard for seven, rather than five, years as part of a deal.
“The matter is ongoing, we remain very interested and hope to report progress in due course,” he said.
Mr Walsh did, however, welcome the idea of high-profile detractors, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, getting the chance to air their grievances over aspects of an IAG/Aer Lingus deal in an official arena.
Virgin has, reportedly, requested an appearance at the Joint Oireachtas Transport Committee to air concerns over competition.
Mr Walsh said he would be “delighted” if Virgin came before the committee, saying “the more people who express their view, the better”.
He added that IAG has “nothing to hide” in its bid for Aer Lingus, but said that opinions from the likes of Mr Branson and Donald Trump (who has suggested an Aer Lingus sale could damage Irish tourism and inward investment) shouldn’t influence a deal.
“We’re very clear about our interests and they’re very genuine… I’d be more interested in the interventions of people in Ireland, who understand the issue,” he said.
The IAG head said that Aer Lingus would “flourish” if part of the group and said it wouldn’t need restructuring, having already been streamlined in recent years.
“We believe we can grow Aer Lingus and grow it at a significant pace,” he said; while also paying tribute to the Irish carrier’s management team (particularly new CEO, Stephen Kavanagh), its strong brand standing in the UK, and its good transatlantic network.
He said opposition to the sale of Aer Lingus shows there to be a strong affinity with the brand and that IAG is sensitive to that.
“It reinforces exactly what I’ve said. Aer Lingus is a very strong brand in Ireland and that’s the reason why IAG is interested. We’re interested in having airlines with strong brands, which can be developed.”