Michael O’Leary’s Aer Lingus bid was never taking off

The third offer by Ryanair to buy its much smaller rival Aer Lingus has again come to nothing. Another costly affair for Aer Lingus and a distraction for Ryanair, stymied once again by competition concerns expressed by the European Union.

Officially this bid is alive until the EU's competition commission makes its final decision in a few weeks but realistically the near €700 million takeover was never getting out of the departures lounge. That’s despite the flurry or activity by Ryanair in recent weeks to get two airlines - British Airways and Flybe - to take on overlapping routes flown by Aer Lingus.

I've argued many times the business merits of Ryanair acquiring Aer Lingus makes some sense as could become the first true budget long-haul carrier and also give it access to key European airport hubs where it hasn’t been strong.

But as always with events in Irish aviation this was a political non-flyer. Transport minister Leo Varadkar signalled in December that it wouldn't sell its 25% stake in the company to Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O'Leary and that was it. The unions at Aer Lingus, its management team and the Irish tourism industry has always been against it. Against that quartet of opponents there was little likelihood of it going through.

Past chief executives likes Willie Walsh have tried and failed to make Aer Lingus into a true European carrier with a nimbler cost base (and yes that means fewer workers) and a flexibility to adapt to the cyclical nature of the aviation business.

Christoph Mueller, the current Aer Lingus boss, has made huge inroads in cost-cutting to make the company profitable. Its balance sheet is healthy enough, though a huge deficit in its employee pension fund could ruin that. But where does it go from here?

European aviation is evolving. Bigger carriers are emerging. These global groups like British Airways/Iberia, Air France-KLM are the future, capable of competing with the growing airline powerhouses like Emirates and the giant American carriers. How long can Aer Lingus remain independent with these structural changes happening in the industry?

This has been a costly business for Aer Lingus, more than €10 million on an army of financial, legal and media advisers. It has been time sapping for both airlines because of the engagement with Brussels’ competition officials.

Michael O’Leary will not go away for long. There is a threat of an appeal by Ryanair to the European Court when the bid is formally blocked. But as long as the government objects to his takeover it will remain grounded.