Etihad Airways has bought a 3% stake in Aer Lingus as a precursor to a commercial tie-up that could help Abu Dhabi’s flagship carrier gain more European routes to catch up with Middle Eastern rivals.
The deal also positions state-owned Etihad as a potential buyer of the Government’s 25% stake in Aer Lingus, which it is being sold as part of the troika bailout.
After months of speculation about a possible deal, the airlines said yesterday that Etihad’s stake purchase reflected “its desire to forge a commercial partnership” with Aer Lingus.
Aer Lingus said talks with Etihad, which operates 10 flights a week between Abu Dhabi and Dublin since launching the service in 2007, so far have centred around a code-share agreement and have been extended to include cost savings through joint procurement.
Aer Lingus said Etihad had told the Irish carrier that it did not intend to increase its stake pending the outcome of the talks.
Eight-year-old Etihad is attempting to gain scale quickly — particularly in Europe — as it bids to catch up to rivals such as Dubai government-owned Emirates and Qatar Airways.
In December, it raised its stake in Air Berlin to nearly 30% from under 3%, paying approximately €73m and lending the carrier €193m.
In return, Etihad received a code-share agreement giving it access to Air Berlin’s European short-haul route network and to the German capital ahead of Emirates, which has been lobbying for years to get into Berlin.
Etihad has flagged its interest in the Government’s stake in Aer Lingus, with chief executive James Hogan saying previously the group would be open to talks.
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