Ryanair Loses U.K. Antitrust Challenge Over Aer Lingus Stake

Ryanair Holdings Plc lost its challenge to a U.K. antitrust regulator’s decision forcing the company to slash its stake in Aer Lingus Group Plc to no more than 5 percent.

The Competition Appeal Tribunal in London dismissed Ryanair’s appeal in a ruling today. Ryanair was ordered by the U.K. Competition Commission in August to cut its 29.8 percent holding in Aer Lingus, now valued at about 265 million euros ($367.7 million). The regulator argued that the stake affects Aer Lingus’s policies and strategy.

“We are unable to identify any error of law in the CC’s assessment,” the tribunal said.

Europe’s largest low-cost carrier has battled with antitrust authorities in Europe since it first bought Aer Lingus shares as part of a takeover bid in 2006. Ryanair Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Leary’s most recent offer for the smaller rival was blocked in February 2013 by the European Union, which ruled it would increase fares and reduce choice.

Aer Lingus advanced 0.9 percent and Ryanair lost 2.1 percent in Dublin trading today.

Ryanair Appeal

Ryanair will appeal the ruling, the Dublin-based company said in a statement. Lawyers representing the carrier argued last month that the regulator had no basis for the decision, and that the procedure was flawed.

“Today’s CAT judgment is a key milestone on the path toward removing Ryanair from the Aer Lingus share register,” Colm Barrington, chairman of Aer Lingus, said in a statement.

A European court is scheduled to decide on whether the European Commission was right to block Ryanair’s last bid for its Irish competitor.

Ryanair argued that Aer Lingus plays an insignificant role connecting the U.K. and Ireland, serving just six routes, while Ryanair maintains a major network. The regulators typically give companies as long as a year to sell down a stake.

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