Tuesday 12 December 2017

Ryanair won't rule out sale of its Aer Lingus stake to Etihad

Budget airline profits up 20pc in the first half to €543.5m on 24pc revenue rise

John Mulligan

Ryanair won't rule out selling part of its near 30pc stake in Aer Lingus to Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad if an approach is made, according to deputy chief executive Michael Cawley.

The comments came as the company posted surging profits despite the persistent downturn here and in many European markets.

Etihad chief executive James Hogan indicated last month that the airline might be interested in acquiring the Government's stake.

However, Etihad -- which operates 10 flights a week to Abu Dhabi from Dublin -- can't acquire more than a 49.9pc interest in Aer Lingus as the airline is based outside the European Union.

But Mr Cawley said that no third party had yet approached Ryanair regarding its holding in Aer Lingus, and said it was unclear at this stage whether Etihad's apparent interest in the Government's 25.1pc stake in Aer Lingus would solidify.

"We wouldn't stand in the way and it would be available for sale," Mr Cawley said of the Ryanair stake.

Asked if that would include a willingness to sell the bulk of its shareholding to Etihad, Mr Cawley indicated that "perhaps" it would be a possibility.

"I'm not going to say yes here, but most importantly I'm not going to say no either," he said. "We'd have to wait to see what they have in mind."

Mr Cawley made the comments yesterday as Ryanair boosted its profit guidance by 10pc for its current financial year that ends next March on the back of a strong first-half performance.

Its adjusted profit after tax climbed 20pc in the first six months of its fiscal year to €543.5m, while revenue rose 24pc to €2.7bn.

It is now predicting that full-year profits will be around €440m -- up from the previously expected €400m.

Aer Lingus EGM

Meanwhile, an effort by Ryanair to call an extraordinary general meeting at Aer Lingus in its continuing attempt to force the release of a report into a controversial leave and return report could be headed for the High Court.

Mr Cawley said yesterday that the airline had just replied to a letter received on Friday from Aer Lingus chairman Colm Barrington telling Ryanair that its recent request for the EGM was legally invalid.

Aer Lingus hasn't specifically stated how it determined that. However, Mr Cawley said that Ryanair yesterday replied to Mr Barrington informing him that it believes its request is valid.

With the two sides now at loggerheads over the issue, it could be up to the High Court to resolve the matter.

Ryanair has been pushing for the public release of the report, which was prepared by consultancy Deloitte and law firm McCann Fitzgerald.

Aer Lingus had to come to a €29.5m settlement with the Revenue Commissioners earlier this year after the 2008 leave and return scheme was deemed to have generated additional tax liabilities.

Irish Independent

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