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Ryanair offers to sell Aer Lingus stake

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Irish no-frills airline Ryanair on Tuesday said it was prepared to sell its minority holding in rival Aer Lingus to address "unfounded" British regulatory concerns.

Britain's Competition Commission watchdog in May called on Ryanair to cut its 29-percent holding, arguing that the stake risked reducing competition on routes between Britain and Ireland.

Ryanair responded on Tuesday with as strongly-worded statement, in which it said it was willing to see if any airline would indeed be prepared to take over Aer Lingus, which it clearly doubted.

Ryanair's own attempts to buy out its competitor have repeatedly been blocked by the European Commission on grounds of competition, although the Brussels has not called upon Ryanair to sell its minority stake.

The situation changed in May however when the commission argued that Ryanair's stake gives it the ability to influence the commercial strategy of Aer Lingus.

It said also that against a background of consolidation in the airline industry, Ryanair's shareholding obstructs Aer Lingus's ability to merge or combine with another airline.

Ryanair spokesman Robin Kiely described the watchdog's concerns as "imaginary", "non-existent" and "bogus".

He added in the statement: "The only remaining 'concern' they can now dream up is that Ryanair's 29 percent stake might prevent another EU airline buying Aer Lingus; despite 6.5 years of evidence... that no other EU airline has any interest in acquiring Aer Lingus."

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, had in February barred Ryanair's third attempt since 2007 to take over Aer Lingus, citing concerns passengers would lose out badly.

Aer Lingus in any case snubbed all of Ryanair's takeover attempts, arguing that it is a strong stand-alone airline. The Irish government owns around 25 percent of Aer Lingus and has refused to sell its stake to Ryanair.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130723/ryanair-offers-sell-aer-lingus-stake