Ryanair, the UK’s largest airline, today announced that it would add additional daily frequencies from October on its five main Ireland-UK routes in a direct response to similar flight increases recently announced by Aer Lingus for the 2013-14 winter schedule. Aer Lingus’ decision to increase flight frequencies on these UK routes further undermines the discredited UKCC investigation into Ryanair’s 6 ½ year old minority (29%) stake in Aer Lingus. Confronted with incontrovertible evidence that competition between Ryanair and Aer Lingus has intensified, the UKCC has been reduced to inventing fairytale future “concerns” that Ryanair has “influence” over Aer Lingus or that this stake has or will lead to a lessening of competition.
The UKCC, in its provisional findings, has ignored, or excluded, 6 ½ years of evidence which totally disproves their bogus claims. It has failed to produce any evidence that competition would be lessened (or UK consumers penalised) when the European Commission recently (Feb 2013) prohibited Ryanair’s offer for Aer Lingus on the very grounds that competition has intensified between the two Irish airlines over the past 6½ years. If, as the UKCC now claims, Ryanair has “influence” over Aer Lingus which “might” lessen competition, then it should explain why Aer Lingus has recently increased flights on the five main Ireland-UK routes or why Ryanair is now responding with yet more flight frequency, which will lead to lower prices and better deals for those few UK consumers who actually fly Aer Lingus.
Ryanair continues to question why the UK’s OFT and CC have wasted millions of UK taxpayer funds investigating a 6 ½ year old failed merger between two Irish airlines (which has little, if any, impact on any UK consumers) while at the same time neither quango took any action whatsoever on behalf of UK consumers when BA acquired BMI, or previously when Easyjet acquired GB Airways. The UKCC has failed to explain this glaring lack in consistency particularly when neither the EU nor the Irish competition authorities had any concerns about Ryanair’s 6 ½ year old minority stake.
Since the UKCC inquiry has been unable to produce one shred of evidence that competition between Aer Lingus and Ryanair has lessened over the past 6 ½ years and since the UKCC has been forced to accept the EU’s ruling (that intensified competition has benefited consumers) this has reduced the UKCC to flailing around, inventing fairytale future “concerns” so that it can ignore the inconvenient truths of the last 6 ½ years of evidence.
The UKCC’s 3 fairytale future “concerns” are disproven by the past 6 ½ years of evidence as follows;
a) That Ryanair “might” block a rights issue by Aer Lingus: however the UKCC have ignored the inconvenient truth that over the past 6 ½ years – Ryanair has repeatedly confirmed it will support take up rights to prevent dilution.
b) That Ryanair “might” block a disposal by Aer Lingus of its Heathrow slots (despite the fact any such disposal would lessen competition between the two airlines) while ignoring the inconvenient fact that Aer Lingus, as recently as April 2013, disposed of a pair of Heathrow slots without any objection or block by Ryanair.
c) That Ryanair “might” prevent another EU airline from acquiring Aer Lingus, and/or “squeezing out” Ryanair. Again the UKCC has ignored the inconvenient truth that over the past 6 ½ years, no other EU airline has shown any interest in acquiring Aer Lingus and almost all other EU airlines have publicly stated that they have no interest in acquiring Aer Lingus.
In order to destroy any remaining shred of credibility from these bogus and invented “concerns” Ryanair has offered to unconditionally and irrevocably dispose of its 29% minority shareholding to any other EU airline who offers for, and successfully acquires 50.1% of Aer Lingus (which is far below the legal 80% squeeze out threshold). This undertaking has been dismissed by many commentators on the very obvious grounds that no other EU airline wishes to acquire Aer Lingus, another inconvenient fact which the UKCC has conveniently ignored. Ryanair’s undertaking removes any possibility that it can or could block an acquisition of Aer Lingus by another EU airline and sheds this UKCC process of any credibility whatsoever.
The UKCC’s case now lies in tatters, as Simon Polito and his team flounder around, looking to invent new and even more fairytale “concerns” when the inconvenient truth is that 6 ½ years of evidence proves that Ryanair’s minority stake has resulted in intensified competition between the Irish airlines to the benefit of UK consumers. Finally, the UKCC has produced no shred of evidence whatsoever that any other EU airline – other than Ryanair – has any interest in acquiring Aer Lingus.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary said:
“This misguided UKCC inquiry is a political farce which has no case, no evidence and no credibility either.
1. The UKCC failed to investigate precedent UK airline mergers which affected millions of UK consumers (such as BA-BMI, or Easyjet-GB Airways) yet it’s wasting millions investigating a 6 ½ year old failed merger between two Irish airlines which affects few, if any, UK consumers because Aer Lingus carries very few of them.
2. Having been asked by the OFT to check if competition has been lessened, even the UKCC has now been forced to accept that competition between Aer Lingus and Ryanair has intensified, which is precisely why the EU prohibited Ryanair’s offer (for Aer Lingus) in Feb 2013.
3. When all the evidence proves that competition between Aer Lingus and Ryanair has intensified, Simon Polito and his ream – instead of taking a common sense approach and dismissing this inquiry – are now flailing around trying to invent future concerns which the last 6 ½ years of evidence thoroughly disproves, including:
¾ Ryanair “might” block a rights issue when Ryanair has said it will take up our rights to prevent dilution
¾ Ryanair “might” block the sale of Heathrow slots despite the fact that Ryanair has repeatedly not done so, and
¾ Ryanair “might” block another EU airline acquiring Aer Lingus despite 6 ½ years of evidence that no other EU airline has any interest in Aer Lingus.
4. Ryanair has offered an irrevocable and unconditional commitment that we will sell our 29% stake to any other EU airline which makes an offer and successfully acquires just 50.1% of Aer Lingus. We do this in the knowledge that even this unprecedented and revolutionary remedy will be ignored by a Competition Commission that is determined to ignore facts, hide evidence, misquote and mis-describe Ryanair’s evidence while inventing bogus and imaginary future concerns so that it can arrive at a pre-determined conclusion, that one Irish airline be forced to sell down its 6 ½ year old minority shareholding in another Irish airline in a ruling which is even more draconian than that imposed in the BSkyB/ITV case (where millions of consumers were clearly affected).
Ryanair will pursue every legal avenue at its disposal, to expose this charade and overturn any baseless ruling by this biased UKCC which lacks any shred of credibility and even one iota of evidence. The fact that UK taxpayers’ money is being wasted on a failed 6 ½ year old merger between two Irish airlines, when these useless regulators turned a blind eye to BA’s acquisition of BMI or Easyjet’s acquisition of GB Airways, remains to be explained by either the discredited OFT or this misguided competition inquiry.
In the meantime, Ryanair will continue to add flights and lower fares on those few UK city pairs where we compete with Aer Lingus so that UK consumers will continue to benefit from intensified competition even as the UKCC wastes time and UK taxpayers’ money dreaming up new and even more fairytale “concerns”.”