Friday 28 April 2017

Ó Céidigh doubles his Stobart Air stake to 10pc

Stobart Air operates the Aer Lingus Regional service on a franchise basis
Stobart Air operates the Aer Lingus Regional service on a franchise basis
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Pádraig Ó Céidigh, the former chairman of what is now Stobart Air, has increased his stake in the carrier to about 10pc, the Irish Independent understands.

He is thought to have doubled his holding within the past few weeks after Stobart Air investor Invesco sold its stake to the UK-based Stobart Group.

CityJet terminated talks this week with Stobart Air that would have seen CityJet buy the Aer Lingus Regional operator for about €80m.

Contacted by the Irish Independent, Mr Ó Céidigh, who was appointed a Senator this year, declined to comment on either his stake in Stobart Air or the abandoned takeover by CityJet.

The Stobart Group had spent months lining up Stobart Air for a sale to CityJet.

It acquired control of Stobart Air, previously known as Aer Arann, as part of a deal to enable Aer Arann to exit examinership in 2010. It later changed the name of the carrier to Stobart Air.

More recently, ownership of Stobart Air had been split between four shareholders.

The Stobart Group owned 45pc, while Invesco Asset Management owned 40pc. Broker Cenkos owns 10pc. Mr Ó Céidigh previously owned 5pc.

The Irish Independent revealed last March that CityJet was in talks to acquire Stobart Air.

Since then, the Stobart group has undertaken a shareholder restructuring that saw it buy out Invesco's stake in the carrier.

However, Mr Ó Céidigh is thought to have exercised a pre-emption right to buy some of the shares sold by Invesco. That lifted his stake in the airline.

Industry insiders think it's unlikely that he would seek to regain any control at the airline.

Stobart has also bought out Invesco's 33pc interest in a Cayman Islands-based leasing company, Propius, for £12m. Propius leases aircraft to Stobart Air, which operates 18 turboprops. Stobart now owns 66pc of Propius, and is in talks to buy the remaining third of the business that is owned by Aer Lingus.

All this had pointed towards Stobart Group readying Stobart Air, chaired by Andrew Tinkler, for its sale to CityJet, which is headed by executive chairman Pat Byrne.

However, the sales process had dragged on for months. After being given an ultimatum by CityJet over the weekend to confirm by last Monday that the deal would proceed, Stobart did not respond and CityJet terminated discussions.

Only six weeks ago, CityJet had announced an agreement with London Southend Airport - which is owned by the Stobart Group - to base four aircraft there and launch a network of 18 routes from the airport. But that deal has now been axed.

Instead, Stobart announced on Monday that Stobart Air will now operate those 18 routes through an existing franchise agreement with UK regional carrier FlyBe.

Mr Byrne said that he was "flabbergasted" that Stobart Air had rejected the takeover deal from CityJet.

Stobart Air now faces an increasingly challenging future.

While it made a small profit last year, it will have faced a bigger struggle this year given the sharp decline in sterling.

Flybe is also facing turbulence. Last month, it said that while its revenue rose nearly 13pc in the first half of the financial year, its adjusted pre-tax profit tumbled 25pc to £15.9m.

Irish Independent

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