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Ryanair Appeals U.K. Ruling Over Regulator’s Aer Lingus Probe

Ryanair Holdings Plc asked an appeals court to block a U.K. probe into its 30 percent stake in Aer Lingus Group Plc, arguing it overlaps with a European Union review of plans to take over its Irish rival.

The U.K. Competition Commission’s investigation into the minority stake is superfluous after the EU started a review of its June bid to purchase Aer Lingus for 694 million euros ($884.6 million), Ryanair said in the Court of Appeal in London today. Europe’s biggest discount carrier is seeking to overturn an August ruling by a specialist antitrust tribunal in favor of the regulator.

“Is it really sensible to have two investigations going on at the same time?” Ryanair’s lawyer, David Pannick, said in the hearing. The U.K. probe “overlaps very substantially with issues being considered by the European authority.”

The European Commission this week issued formal objections to Ryanair’s takeover bid, setting out possible competition concerns with the deal. Ryanair has been fighting with regulators since acquiring the Aer Lingus shares in 2006 as part of an earlier takeover bid that the 27-nation EU ultimately blocked on competition grounds.

The “duty of sincere cooperation” required by national regulators in EU member countries “simply does not preclude the Competition Commission from continuing its investigation into Ryanair’s minority share in Aer Lingus,” the regulator’s lawyer, Daniel Beard, said at the hearing.

Britain’s Competition Appeal Tribunal ruled in August that the commission in Brussels has no jurisdiction over the minority shareholding, making it proper for British regulators to investigate.

The two Dublin-based airlines carry more than 80 percent of the 370,000 passengers that travel between the U.K. and Ireland each month, regulators have said.

The minority stake gives Ryanair the ability to weaken Aer Lingus as a competitor and stifle investments from other airlines, the OFT, the U.K. regulator that referred the issue to the Competition Commission, said June 15.

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