Etihad raises Aer Lingus stake for second time in two weeks
There is fresh speculation that Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad wants to intensify its relationship with Aer Lingus after it paid almost €10m to increase its stake in the Irish carrier.
It marks the second time in two weeks that Etihad has upped its stake in Aer Lingus.
Etihad, which is headed by Australian chief executive James Hogan, raised its holding in Aer Lingus again after buying nearly six million shares in the airline last week.
That brought its stake in the Irish airline to 4.11pc, a holding that is now worth over €36m.
The latest share purchase by Etihad came just days after Ryanair lost an appeal against a UK Competition Commission order to reduce its stake in Aer Lingus from almost 30pc to no more than 5pc.
Etihad declined to comment beyond confirming that it had increased its Aer Lingus holding last week and that it had bought the shares on the open market.
Aer Lingus, which is headed by chief executive Christoph Mueller, also declined to comment.
Etihad and Aer Lingus have a codeshare agreement where they share revenue from customers who can book tickets across the two networks, and also work together on joint purchasing initiatives in areas such as IT.
Etihad has stakes in a number of airlines around the world, including Virgin Australia, Air Berlin, India's Jet Airways and Air Seychelles. It has also invested in embattled Italian airline Alitalia.
It first invested in Aer Lingus in 2012. The Irish airline is the only member of Etihad's so-called 'equity alliance' – carriers the Gulf company has invested in – that is making a profit.
Mr Hogan has previously indicated that he would be interested in increasing Etihad's stake in the Irish airline. However, if he does so in any meaningful way, he's almost certain to wait until the final outcome of Ryanair's efforts to prevent it from being forced to sell most of its Aer Lingus stake. That may not happen until towards the end of this year.
The Government owns 25.1pc of Aer Lingus and it has also been holding on to its stake until such a time that Ryanair no longer owns such a significant part of the former state-owned airline.
Despite Mr Hogan's interest in acquiring more Aer Lingus shares, Mr Mueller has indicated that he would prefer to have a larger number of smaller shareholders than a few big ones.