Friday 23 June 2017

Newsmaker: Branson's fury at Aer Lingus takeover

Richard Branson said it would be 'absolutely wrong' for IAG to buy Aer Lingus
Richard Branson said it would be 'absolutely wrong' for IAG to buy Aer Lingus
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

There's a certain poetry in the notion that Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic might, in theory at any rate, serve as prophylactic to the proposed IAG/Aer Lingus takeover.

Beat poetry rather than English pastoral mind you, but still.

In 1990, Branson's then-Virgin Megastore in Dublin pioneered over-the-counter sale of condoms to a shocked and delighted Irish population.

This time it's consummation of IAG's takeover of Aer Lingus that the British billionaire wants to prevent.

His intervention puts the focus back on a deal process Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe might have hoped was fading into the background.

Branson's Virgin Atlantic made no secret of its concerns even before the Government here waved the deal through, but now the original "rock star" entrepreneur has upped the ante.

In an interview with the 'Telegraph' newspaper, he said competition authorities should block the proposed takeover.

The Government here reckons IAG's Aer Lingus takeover can clear competition hurdles, but Branson also knows his way around the regulatory regime.

Like Ryanair, Virgin battled hard early on to establish itself in the face of fierce competition from the then-state-owned British Airways, now part of IAG.

The two have been fierce rivals ever since. Virgin successfully argued that IAG should be stripped of some Heathrow Airport landing slots after its takeover of bmi.

Virgin then partnered with Aer Lingus to create the Little Red brand to operate some of those slots for short-haul operations but that venture was scrapped last year, in part because it struggled against competition from BA.

Another iconoclast with some insight into aviation regulation is, of course, Michael O'Leary.

The Ryanair boss has been ordered to slash his airline's near 30pc stake in Aer Lingus below 5pc by British regulators to appease competition concerns.

Ryanair says the decision is "ridiculous" and has vowed to appeal, despite an offer on the table from IAG to buy the entire Aer Lingus stake.

IAG's Willie Walsh had better watch out.

He's played a steady hand since the takeover bid was launched, but the pot is still to play for and there may be more than one joker in the pack.

Richard Branson

Irish Independent

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