Saturday 25 May 2019

Branson’s Virgin aims to scupper Aer Lingus bid

Richard Branson, chairman and chief executive of Virgin Group, striking a pose in the past with a group of Virgin Atlantic flight attendants
Richard Branson, chairman and chief executive of Virgin Group, striking a pose in the past with a group of Virgin Atlantic flight attendants

Niall O’Connor

ONE of the world’s leading airlines has claimed the proposed takeover of Aer Lingus would have an “adverse effect” on ticket prices, quality of service and connectivity.

Virgin Atlantic has intervened in the row over whether the Government should offload its 25pc stake, insisting that Irish consumers will lose out if the sale proceeds.

In a detailed letter, obtained by the Irish Independent, the Richard Branson-founded airline warns of a “monopoly on consumers” that could prove detrimental to competition.

And the company reveals that it has already expressed concerns to the European Commission about the potential impact on competition if the deal proceeds.

Virgin Atlantic says that the sale would jeopardise the level of choice available to Irish passengers who currently fly with Aer Lingus to the UK, before choosing a different airline to provide an onward connection.

“Although Virgin Atlantic (VAA) does not serve the Irish market directly, we serve many Irish consumers through onward connections at Manchester, Gatwick and Heathrow from Dublin, Shannon, Cork and Knock.

“VAA’s ability to compete for this traffic, in combination with Aer Lingus as the provider of short-haul ‘feed’, benefits Irish consumers in the form of greater choice of airlines and travel times, lower prices, and improved levels of service," the company said.

"These consumer benefits are at risk if IAG's acquisition of Aer Lingus is allowed to proceed unchecked.

"The impact on consumers travelling between the Republic of Ireland and long-haul destinations on connecting itineraries should be an important consideration in the progress of this takeover," it added.

The concern raised by Virgin is one of several made in a two-page letter sent to Fianna Fáil Transport Spokesperson Timmy Dooley.

While the letter clearly illustrates the concerns Virgin has for its own sales base, it also warns that the IAG deal could result in a reduction in the number of flights between Ireland and Britain.

The firm's Director of Network and Alliances, Joe Thompson, claims IAG chief Willie Walsh has yet to provide a commitment on the issue of the frequency of flights.

"To date, IAG has offered minimal public commitments with regard to retaining Aer Lingus-operated services between Ireland and the UK," Mr Thompson said.

However, Mr Walsh has previously guaranteed to use Aer Lingus slots at Heathrow to serve only Irish routes for at least five years if IAG takes over the Irish airline.

He pledged to create hundreds of jobs at Aer Lingus and said there was potential to launch new routes from Dublin.

He has also said IAG would bring an extra 2.5 million passengers to Ireland by 2020.

Irish Independent

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