Ryanair questions Aer Lingus independence claims

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Ryanair has posed a series of written questions today to Aer Lingus concerning the latter's independence claims as the budget carrier seeks to turn up the heat on its takeover bid.

A recent flurry of activity from Ryanair has focused on Aer Lingus' assertion that its independence can remain outside the wave of European consolidation currently taking place, as the budget carrier's chief executive Michael O'Leary makes clear.

Writing to Aer Lingus chairman Colm Barrington today, O'Leary says: "Air France has acquired CityJet, KLM, VLM, Martinair and is now in talks to consolidate with the merged Alitalia/Air One.

"Likewise, Lufthansa has acquired or agreed to acquire substantial stakes in Swiss, Austrian, British Midland and SN Brussels. [British Airways] has a significant stake in Iberia and both airlines are in active merger discussion. Why then has Aer Lingus been bypassed and ignored by this pan-European consolidation?"

Aer Lingus is stoutly defending its position, maintaining that a merger with Ryanair would lead to a monopoly situation in Ireland and fare increases.

It also cites cost-cutting measures agreed with Aer Lingus unions SIPTU and Impact to deliver €50 million ($67.8 million) of savings, together with its forecast of a profit for 2008. The airline highlights its net cash position and the value of London Heathrow slots and fleet orders.