Ryanair to contest any order to sell Aer Lingus stake

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Ryanair has vowed to "fight" any ruling that it must divest its stake in Aer Lingus - despite having put its near-30% holding in the Irish national carrier up for sale.

The budget carrier's deputy chief executive Howard Millar says it is preparing to appeal any decision by the UK Competition Commission that compels it to shed its Aer Lingus shares. The body is to give its verdict next month, after concluding an investigation into competition in the UK-Ireland aviation market.

"There will be many twists and turns in this event," says Millar. "If the UK Competition Commission does rule that we do have to sell down some or all of our stake, then we will obviously appeal this."

He describes the investigation into two Irish carriers by a UK competition watchdog as a "bizarre situation", arguing that "all the evidence that has come out of this - and which has been confirmed by the Irish competition commission - is that competition has actually increased. UK consumers are the benefactors of that."

Meanwhile, Ryanair's existing appeal against the European Commission's rejection of its third takeover bid for Aer Lingus is expected to "run on and on" for at least another two years, Millar says.

Last week, Ryanair publicly stated that it would sell its stake in Aer Lingus to any European carrier that could obtain the support of 50.1% of Aer Lingus shareholders for a takeover bid. To date, Ryanair has not received a single offer, Millar says.

Ryanair remains committed to a full takeover of Aer Lingus and would put in place an expansion plan, he adds: "We believe we could make a significant difference - we could grow the business by 50% in five years and in the process increase profitability and reduce costs."