Aer Lingus has confirmed plans to launch its first domestic flights on the British mainland, in a move certain to be seen as a challenge to Ryanair's latest takeover efforts.
Last night, a spokesman for Aer Lingus told the Irish Independent that the airline had informed European competition authorities of its interest in taking on a new route between London's Heathrow airport and the Scottish capital Edinburgh.
The confirmation came after Britain's 'Sunday Telegraph' newspaper quoted unnamed sources who said Aer Lingus and Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic were in the running for the right to operate a service between Heathrow and Edinburgh.
The London Heathrow to Edinburgh route is up for grabs after European competition authorities ordered UK airline Bmi to give up 14 sought-after landing slots at Heathrow as a condition of its takeover by International Airline Group (IAG).
IAG is the name for the airline group created out of the merger of British Airways and Spain's Iberia. The new aviation giant is headed by Irishman and former Aer Lingus boss Willie Walsh.
A spokesman for Aer Lingus said the Irish airline had indicated its intention to formally "bid" for the right to operate between the Scottish and English capitals when applications are due to be submitted in August.
No money will change hands when the slots are reallocated, instead competition authorities are expected to weigh proposals from interested parties on the basis of their viability and considering whether the proposal will create real competition on the route.
Aer Lingus already has the third-highest number of landing slots at Heathrow of any airline, and its contractual right to operate out of Europe's busiest airport is seen as one of its main assets.
In the Dail last week, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said the Government was powerless to block slots owned by Aer Lingus being used for routes other than to Ireland.
There was controversy in the mid-west in 2007 when Aer Lingus dropped a number of flights from Shannon Airport to Heathrow but used the same slots for a new Belfast -- Heathrow service. Now there are fears that other island-of-Ireland to Heathrow routes may be cut in future, especially if Aer Lingus is sold.
The timing of the bid, in the teeth of the latest takeover offer from Ryanair, is sure to be read by the markets and competition authorities as a marker of the ambition of Aer Lingus bosses to continue as a standalone airline.
The board of Aer Lingus has recommended that shareholders reject Ryanair's June takeover approach.
Shares in Aer Lingus remain close to a 17-month high, after surging 15pc on June 20.