The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is eyeing up a stake in its UK counterpart, the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), in a move that could cost the semi-state company tens of millions of euro.
The IAA has confirmed that it is considering its options in relation to NATS as a 12pc stake in the business is put up for sale by Thomas Cook Airlines and TUI-owned Thomson Airways.
Headed by Eamonn Brennan, the IAA handled about 1,400 flights a day last month and employs close to 700 people. Its turnover in 2011 was €179m, while it made an operating profit of €18m.
The IAA, which receives no state funding, said that as an air traffic services provider, it is a partner organisation with NATS and co-operates as part of a wider European grouping.
"The IAA is a profitable air traffic control provider, deploying Europe's most advanced technology and also has the lowest charges for ATC services in Europe," it said.
"The IAA, as an air traffic control services provider, has expressed an indicative interest in formalising its partnership with NATS via the current share sale."
The UK government owns 49pc of NATS while a group of airlines and tour operators owns a combined 42pc of the service.
NATS staff own 5pc, while the operator of Heathrow Airport owns 4pc.
The UK government also owns a 'golden share' in the service.
NATS has a likely value of around £1bn (€1.1bn). But the UK government has already put plans to sell part of its stake in the service on the backburner amid concerns that there would be a backlash about offloading what would be considered a strategic national asset.
However, with the Thomson Airways and Thomas Cook stakes on the block, and another 12pc stake previously owned by British Midland speculated to be put up for sale too, the IAA is examining how it can become more closely engaged with NATS.
The European Union also wants to harmonise air traffic controls services across European airspace.
The IAA and NATS already closely cooperate. They jointly manage a so-called functional airspace block, a sector of airspace that covers more than one country and which is managed as a single unit.
By 2020, air traffic in Europe is expected to have doubled compared to a few years ago.