Ryanair has said it remains "open to offers" for its near 30% stake in Aer Lingus, but added that it has not been approached by the owner of British Airways, IAG, as yet regarding its shareholding.
IAG has had two approaches for Aer Lingus rejected by the airline’s board — the most recent, at €2.40 per share/€1.28bn coming late last week. A third approach, potentially priced at somewhere between €2.50 and €2.70 per share, is anticipated this week.
Speaking yesterday, at an operational update briefing, Ryanair’s chief marketing manager, Kenny Jacobs said that Ryanair hadn’t heard from IAG but has been ready to sell its 29.8% stake in Aer Lingus “for a while” and is “still open to offers”.
He added that even if IAG failed to buy Aer Lingus, other suitors would probably emerge over time for the airline. Any cash injection from a successful IAG takeover of Aer Lingus would be used, by Ryanair, to simply re-invest in the business, Mr Jacobs said, noting it already has “the best balance sheet of any airline in the world”.
Ryanair is also expecting a ruling on its appeal against a UK Competition Commission decision that it should lower its Aer Lingus stake to 5%, this week. If it loses, it will appeal again; while Aer Lingus is expected to appeal if Ryanair wins its initial appeal.
Mr Jacobs added that consolidation in the European airline sector is anticipated, at the top and lower ends of the market, noting that Ryanair expects to make strong gains from such movement in the coming years.
Asked whether Ryanair will take an active part in such a wave of consolidation, he said any viable acquisition targets will be considered as part of the airline’s growth strategy.
Ryanair had bid for Cyprus Airways, which closed last week after the European Commission ruled that the Cypriot Government’s bankrolling of the airline breached state aid rules.
But the Irish carrier is still interested in developing its business in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which it sees, along with Germany and Scandinavia, as chief growth markets for it in the coming years. Political volatility and visa issues have postponed Ryanair’s plans for routes into Russia, but Mr Jacobs said Ryanair still has “medium-term” plans for that market.
He said that Heathrow, Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle remain the only three European airports into which Ryanair is unlikely to expand.
While not ruling out swooping for slots at Heathrow which could become available from an IAG takeover of Aer Lingus, Mr Jacobs said it would be difficult to maintain its 25 minute turnaround schedule at the airport.
Mr Jacobs added that Ryanair, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, should reach 160 million annual passengers by 2024 — the current world leader is Delta, with 120 million — and will see its UK operations, alone, grow bigger than the global operations of British Airways within the next 18 months.
This year will also see Ryanair continue on its three-year customer service programme.
Part of the improvements expected to be trialled, this year, include in-flight entertainment, via the introduction of on board streaming services, which will allow passengers access movies and TV programmes on their mobile devices.
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