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U.K. Antitrust Regulator Delays Ryanair-Air Lingus Ruling

June 26 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Competition Commission will delay a decision on Ryanair Holdings Plc’s 29.8 percent stake in Irish competitor Aer Lingus Group Plc by almost two months to consider the parties’ responses and options.

The extension of the ruling deadline to Sept. 5 from July 11 is needed to assess the “practicability of the range of possible remedies,” the regulator said today in a statement.

Europe’s largest discount airline has been wrangling with regulators since acquiring the Aer Lingus shares in 2006. Its most recent takeover bid was blocked in February by the European Union, which ruled the combination would increase fares and reduce consumer choice. The U.K. watchdog said last month that it’s looking into whether the stake gives Ryanair “the ability to influence the commercial policy and strategy” of Aer Lingus.

Ryanair “has had no material influence over Aer Lingus” and rivalry between the two carriers has “not led to a ‘lessening’ but rather an ‘intensification’ of competition,” spokesman Robin Kiely said in a statement today.

Ryanair Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary described the U.K. watchdog’s findings as “bizarre” in May, and said the airline may appeal to the U.K. Competition Appeal Tribunal.

“Aer Lingus will continue to assist the U.K. Competition Commission in the investigation into the anti-competitive effects of Ryanair’s minority shareholding,” the carrier, also based in Dublin, said in a statement today.

Ryanair rose as much as 2.5 percent to 7.17 euros and closed up 1.8 percent in Dublin. The stock has gained 51 percent this year.

The airline may be able to delay the enforcement of any U.K. ruling for years while it challenges the EU’s Feb. 27 decision to block the takeover offer. The offer, Ryanair’s second, valued Aer Lingus at 694 million euros ($902 million).

To contact the reporter on this story: Kari Lundgren in London at klundgren2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net

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