Friday 23 February 2018

Aer Lingus Q&A: Please fasten your seatbelts - there's a fair chance of turbulence ahead

Finance Minister Michael Noonan
Finance Minister Michael Noonan
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

What's Willie Walsh been up to?

The IAG chief executive was in Dublin on a media and political blitz to push through his planned €1.4bn takeover of Aer Lingus?

Did it work?

As he said himself, we'll have to wait and see. He met Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe on Wednesday, did rounds of media interviews and put himself in the lion's den by appearing before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, whose members, by and large, have been vociferous opponents to an Aer Lingus sale.

Did the IAG chief executive say anything new?

At the Oireachtas committee hearing, Mr Walsh confirmed much of what he's been saying over the past day or so. But he did say that, following a meeting with the transport minister, he's prepared to offer specific concessions in relation to the operation of flights to Heathrow from Cork and Shannon for a period of at least five years.

What happens next?

The Government has established a review group that will advise it on whether or not a sale of the taxpayers' 25.1pc stake in Aer Lingus makes commercial sense for the airline and the country. IAG has met with that group, as has Aer Lingus. Mr Walsh said IAG will be presenting some additional information to the group to address some outstanding issues. The review group will eventually draft a report, give it to the transport minister, who'll then bring the whole thing to Cabinet.

And can the Cabinet decide to sell the stake?

Sort of. It's actually the Minister for Finance who technically holds the stake, so it's Michael Noonan who officially makes the decision to sell, or not, as the case may be. Even if the Government decides to sell, it has to go before the Dáil for a vote. Expect more ructions if we ever get that far.

What about Ryanair?

IAG wants Ryanair's backing too, but Ryanair won't come out and say anything either way until IAG makes a formal offer to buy Aer Lingus. Ryanair's chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said yesterday that Ryanair hopes the Government makes a "sensible" decision regarding its Aer Lingus stake.

And we all know what that means.

But hasn't Ryanair just been told to sell its Aer Lingus shares?

The UK Court of Appeal has upheld a previous ruling that Ryanair must cut its stake in Aer Lingus from near 30pc to no more than 5pc. That order, issued in 2013 by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), was made because of competition fears and a belief that Ryanair's presence as a shareholder in Aer Lingus acted as a deterrent to other potential suitors for its smaller rival.

And when will it have to sell the shares?

Not any time soon. Ryanair is going to seek leave to appeal the ruling and has also asked the CMA to review its original finding given the fact that IAG has made an approach to buy Aer Lingus. This could all drag on for months.

Would Willie Walsh be happy with just 75pc of Aer Lingus?

He says not. He made it clear yesterday that his proposals are based on buying it all.

Irish Independent

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