O'Leary meets BA chief as he ramps up Aer Lingus bid
MICHAEL O'Leary has held face-to-face talks with British Airways boss Willie Walsh as he tries to engineer a solution that would persuade mandarins in Brussels to sanction Ryanair's latest attempt to buy Aer Lingus.
The EU Commission is currently weighing whether to let Ryanair pursue a €694m bid for its rival. It blocked a previous bid and analysts remain reasonably certain that it won't change its mind this time.
But Ryanair spokesman Stephen McNamara claimed yesterday that it would be difficult for Brussels to block the bid.
"We will do everything possible to try and get it across the line. I think it's going to be difficult this time for Brussels to come up with reasons to block it," he said.
Mr McNamara said that any reasons the commission gives will be "set in stone" for "every other merger from an airline point of view going forward". He insisted that could make other airlines "very nervous".
Mr O'Leary said at Ryanair's annual general meeting last month that the airline will have to consider selling its near 30pc stake in Aer Lingus if Brussels blocks the current takeover effort. He predicted Aer Lingus would subsequently be broken up by other investors.
Mr McNamara said Mr Walsh, who is chief executive of British Airways and Iberia owner IAG, had been in Dublin to speak to Mr O'Leary within the past couple of months.
Ryanair is proposing to offload some valuable Aer Lingus landing slots at Heathrow to rivals in return for a commitment from them to service Dublin in competition with Ryanair and Aer Lingus. It is hoping this will ease competition concerns.
"The level of interest has been very strong," said Mr McNamara, adding that Ryanair envisages Aer Lingus establishing a base at Brussels' main airport.
"There's certainly enough interest to form the remedies package that we can put forward. We've had the likes of Cityjet, we've had discussions with charter operators. Virgin seems to be interested in building up some short-haul routes."
He said that if Ryanair doesn't succeed this time around that it will look at placing a significant aircraft order.
The spokesman also said that Ryanair would revamp business class on transatlantic Aer Lingus services as part of plans to slash the cost of tickets for economy passengers.
Ryanair yesterday said it will operate an additional return daily flight between Dublin and Brussels Chaleroi rom November as part of Ireland's EU presidency that begins in January.
Meanwhile, Aer Lingus said mainline passenger traffic dipped 0.8pc in September to 926,000, with short haul numbers falling 1.4p to 829,00 and long haul rising 4.3pc to 97,000.
Aer Lingus Regional, which is operated by Aer Arann, carried 93,000 passengers last month, up 36.8pc.