Etihad Airways has declared an interest in buying Ryanair’s stake in Aer Lingus.
The Abu Dhabi-based carrier already owns a 3% stake in Aer Lingus, in which Ryanair holds a 30% share.
Asked whether he was interested in the Ryanair stake, Etihad chief executive James Hogan told business news agency Bloomberg: “We would be very happy to have that discussion.”
Etihad has previously indicated an interest in buying the Irish government’s 25% stake in Aer Lingus. However, it could not purchase both stakes as non-European investors cannot hold majority shares in an EU carrier.
The airline could not buy the whole Ryanair stake, either, as Irish company law requires a holder of a 30% stake in a listed company to submit a full takeover bid.
A spokesman for Etihad in London declined to comment, but Hogan told Bloomberg: “Dublin is a strong, profitable route for us and we’re very keen to strengthen our partnership there.” He added: “There aren’t many other opportunities.”
Etihad recently began taking stakes in carriers in some overseas markets. It holds a 29% stake in Air Berlin and last month won clearance to double its stake in Virgin Australia to 10%.
Ryanair has tabled its own bid to take-over Aer Lingus and is poised to submit proposals to European regulators designed to alleviate competition concerns.
The budget carrier issued a brief statement last night saying it would not comment on “rumour and speculation” about the EU process or Aer Lingus.
Ryanair has tried to take-over Aer Lingus twice before. Its first bid was blocked by the European Commission six years ago. The second attempt, in 2008, was withdrawn.
The carrier’s latest €694 million (£555 million) bid is not expected to succeed. Aer Lingus has dismissed it as “not credible” and the EC is expected to veto it again on competition grounds.
Analysts have suggested the latest offer is designed to set a price for the sale of Ryanair’s stake.
At the same time, the UK Competition Commission is investigating the impact of Ryanair’s existing stake in Aer Lingus and whether this gives it an influence over the operations of its Irish rival.
Ryanair lost its attempt to block the investigation at a Competition Appeal Tribunal last week.
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