Cleary on standby as Ryanair plays the Heathrow slots with Virgin

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is advising Ryanair on talks with Virgin Atlantic about the sale of sought-after Heathrow slots.


The budget airline has turned to partner Nicholas Levy to negotiate offloading Aer Lingus’s share of the London airport’s capacity.

Ryanair owns 29.8 per cent of Aer Lingus and Levy is leading on talks with the European Commission’s(EC) competition regulators about its proposed £545m outright takeover of its Irish rival (25 June 2012).

It has not been confirmed who is acting for Virgin Atlantic in the negotiations.

Aer Lingus has previously used Arthur Cox and instructed Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft partner Alec Burnside, Linklaters partner Eamonn Doran and Brick Court Chambers’ James Flynn QC for its competition work.

It is likely that Ryanair is exploring options so that it can put forward a proposal of remedies to the EC in a bid to secure phase one clearance of its Aer Lingus buyout.

Aer Lingus has a 3.5 per cent share of the slots – which can trade for tens of millions of pounds – and is the third biggest airline at Heathrow, behind British Airways (BA) and British Midland International (BMI).

The Competition Commission is also looking into Ryanair’s stake in Aer Lingus under UK competition regulation and attempts by Ryanair to put that probe on ice have so far failed (19 June 2012).

Meanwhile, BAA Airports has brought to an end at least £3m of litigation over the sale of Stansted Airport.

In a statement the airport authority said that after considering the Court of Appeal’s ruling that it must sell Stansted (2 February 2012), it would not appeal to the UK Supreme Court (UKSC).

The case has been to the Competition Commission, Competition Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal stage twice and The Lawyer understands BAA’s lawyers at Herbert Smith had until Thursday to file papers if it wanted to appeal to the UKSC again.

Herbert Smith partners Nusrat Zar and Stephen Wisking have instructed Brick Court Chambers’ Nicholas Green QC to lead Martin Chamberlain of the same set for BAA throughout. They were assisted by a competition team from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer earlier in the dispute.

BAA’s legal team head-to-head with Monckton Chambers’ Daniel Beard QC and Alan Bates, instructed for the Competition Commission, and Paul Harris QC of the same set and Sarah Love of Brick Court Chambers instructed by Nabarro partner George Maling for the intervener Ryanair.

The series of legal battles against the competition regulator began after it ordered BAA to sell Gatwick, Stansted and either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports in March 2009, citing dominance in the sector.

Green argued on behalf of BAA that the market had changed substantially since the order was made. The operator sold Gatwick, its second-largest airport, for £1.5bn in 2009 (21 October 2009).

Details about how long BAA now has before it must sell Stansted are subject to a court confidentiality agreement.