Belfast Telegraph

Aer Lingus sale a sad day, says Virgin boss Richard Branson

By John Mulligan

The sale of Aer Lingus to British Airways owner IAG was a "sad day", according to Virgin boss Richard Branson.

Mr Branson, who founded and controls Virgin Atlantic, said that his airline will work with the European Commission to ensure that competition concessions imposed on IAG to allow the Aer Lingus acquisition to go ahead are implemented and adhered to.

IAG, headed by former Aer Lingus and British Airways boss Willie Walsh, paid €1.36bn (£1bn) this year to buy the Irish airline.

Both airlines fly from Belfast City Airport, with Aer Lingus flying to Algarve, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, Palma and Malaga from Belfast.

British Airways only flies to Heathrow from Belfast. British Airways and Virgin have been bitter rivals for over two decades, and the animosity between them continues to this day.

"It was a sad day I think when Aer Lingus lost its independence," said the billionaire businessman, who was in Dublin yesterday for the rebranding of TV, broadband and telephone group UPC as Virgin Media. The name change takes effect on Monday.

"It's happened. So now we are working with the European Union to try to make sure that the Aer Lingus arrangement is not too anti-competitive, and we'll see how those negotiations go," added Mr Branson.

"For some bizarre reason, governments have allowed lots and lots of mergers to take place," he said. "I don't think that's in the interest of the travelling public. I think the travelling public benefit from lots of competition."

Virgin Atlantic wrote to the European Commission in April, pleading with it to carefully consider allowing the Aer Lingus sale to IAG.

IAG wants to use Aer Lingus to boost the group's lucrative transatlantic services via Dublin.

Virgin Atlantic claimed the takeover would result in a "reduction in competition" which would result in a "deterioration in consumer benefit".

Virgin Atlantic, 49%-owned by US carrier Delta, was concerned that it would lose tens thousands of passengers a year who connect to its long-haul services in London from Ireland, saying passengers could lose out.

Belfast Telegraph

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