Last chance for Ryanair-Aer Lingus deal, EU says

BRUSSELS Fri Feb 1, 2013 1:57pm GMT

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BRUSSELS Feb 1 (Reuters) - Ryanair has one last chance to argue the merits of its latest attempt to acquire Irish rival Aer Lingus, the European Union's antitrust chief said on Friday, as he prepares to decide the deal's fate.

Europe's leading low-cost carrier is making its third takeover bid for Aer Lingus after the European Commission blocked its first attempt in 2007 and Ryanair dropped its second in 2009.

Ryanair submitted a third set of proposals to the EU competition authority last month. Among them were a promise to cede 43 routes to British-based rival Flybe and three of Aer Lingus's Heathrow routes to British Airways, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier.

The Commission, which acts as competition authority in the 27-member European Union, has since sought feedback from rivals and other interested parties on those proposals.

Asked if Ryanair would need to offer more concessions, or if it still had time to do so, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told Reuters: "There is one more time to discuss it."

He declined to elaborate.

The Commission has set a March 6 deadline for a decision.

Ryanair has signed a non-binding agreement with British Airways as part of its plan to acquire Aer Lingus. It is now in non-binding talks with Flybe about a transfer of aircraft and operating routes.

An antitrust lawyer said striking binding deals with both rivals could tip the Commission's decision in Ryanair's favour, as that would show all the carriers are committed to the agreements.

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