The controversial takeover of UK airline bmi by British Airways’ parent company was approved by the European Commission this afternoon – but with conditions attached.
In return for Brussels’ agreement, BA’s owners, International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG), must give up 14 pairs of daily take-off and landing slots at Heathrow as a contribution to boost competition in the sector.
IAG must also commit to carry connecting passengers to feed the long-haul flights of competing airlines out of London Heathrow.
With IAG’s agreement to the conditions, said a Commission statement, the takeover “would not raise competition concerns”.
European Commissioner for competition policy Joaquin Almunia said: “The commitments package includes an appropriate number of very sought-after slots at London Heathrow as well as far-reaching feeder arrangements as regards connecting passengers.
“We are therefore satisfied that the competitive dynamics will be maintained so as to ensure choice and quality of air services for passengers.”
Completion of the deal is expected to take place around April 20.
Responding to the approval, Ryanair said the only significant EU airline merger that had been prohibited was its own with Aer Lingus.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary added: “Today’s rubber-stamping of BA’s purchase of bmi shows yet again that the EC has one rule for Europe’s flag-carriers, but different rules for Ryanair.
“While we have no objection to BA’s acquisition of bmi, it will undoubtedly lead to higher fares and higher fuel surcharges, and give BA/IAG even greater control (over 55% of slots) at the heavily congested Heathrow.”