ANN CAHILL: O’Leary: State could sell its Aer Lingus stake to Ryanair

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said he has been approached by companies interested in buying the State’s 25% share in Aer Lingus.

He said he believes Ryanair might end up purchasing the State’s holding.

The low-cost airline has a 29.8% stake in the national airline but was refused permission to take it over in 2007 because it would have given it a near monopoly on flights out of the country.

At least two airlines are known to be interested in buying into Aer Lingus — Ethiad from the Middle East and JetBlue from the US. The State hopes to net around €118m from the sale which is part of an agreement with the troika on €3bn worth of state assets.

Mr O’Leary said Ryanair is happy to work with whoever buys the State’s share or they could talk to them about selling their stake. “We have ruled out that we will not sell our stake with the Irish Government’s, so whoever buys the stake will either have to work with us or buy our stake if they want to get control of it.”

He said Ryanair had been approached by about three different airlines and consortia interesting in buying the Government’s stake.

“All want to break up Aer Lingus because they want the Heathrow slots or and the trans Atlantic — the good bits — and don’t want the bits that lose money — the flights to the UK and Europe, which lose money because they cannot compete with Ryanair,” he said.

The impact of this he believed would be that a sale would result in the break-up of Aer Lingus.

He also believed the sale could be agreed this year, and added, “I would not rule out the possibility that the Government could sell its 25% stake to Ryanair”.

Mr O’Leary, at a press conference in Brussels, got involved in a row the Belgian airline SNBrussels is having with the country’s main airport at Zaventem over charges.

They have told the government they need a subsidy to compete with Ryanair flying out of Charleroi which is about 50 minutes drive away.

Mr O’Leary advised them to move to Ireland, register their aircraft there, and Irish employment terms and conditions will apply to their workforce.

“There is an EU law that applies to transport workers. Our employees operate on Irish land, you are flying on Irish territory, we pay our taxes in Ireland, the employees get paid in an Irish bank, they pay their taxes they pay their social whatever-it-is in Ireland — what’s wrong with that? It’s called the EU, at the heart of the EU which is about the free movement of goods and labour,” he said.

Low-cost ban dispute

The European Commission hit back at Ryanair claims that it bans employees from using the low-cost airline.

The commission said the problem lay with Ryanair’s policy of preventing travel agents from booking flights.

To get around Ryanair’s ban on travel agents, the commission refunds employees who book with the airline.

Spokesman Antonio Gravili said: “It is not the case that we ban low-cost carriers. AmEx, the travel agent contracted to arrange employees travel, has it written into their contract that they must offer the best value means of transport.

“AmEx has 70 low-cost carriers in their system . . . but Ryanair does not allow AmEx to book flights, so they are complaining about an obstacle they themselves have created.”

The issue arose when the commission invited Michael O’Leary to address a conference on innovation, but said they could not collect him from Charleroi Airport and offered to pay him the cost of an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin and collect him from Zaventem Airport.


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