The DOT has tentatively approved the addition of Ireland's Aer Lingus into the existing antitrust-immune Oneworld joint venture alliance that includes American, British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.
Final approval would allow Aer Lingus to jointly schedule, market and operate flights alongside those carriers.
Since 2015, Aer Lingus has been owned by International Airlines Group, which is also the parent of British Airways and Iberia.
In an order posted to the public docket on Monday, the DOT said that Aer Lingus is the largest player in the U.S-Ireland air market with a 44% market share before the Covid-19 pandemic. A transatlantic tie-up between Aer Lingus, American and British Airways would bring the Oneworld joint venture's share to 59% of the U.S.-Ireland market.
Nevertheless, the department said that ample competition exists to thwart any potential anti-competitive behavior by the alliance. The DOT in particular singled out low-cost carrier Norwegian, which controlled 12% of the U.S.-Ireland marketplace pre-Covid but which currently is operating no transatlantic flights and faces an uncertain future amid dire financial challenges.
United and Delta also operate in the U.S-Ireland marketplace. And the DOT said barriers for further entrants are limited.
As conditions for approval of the expanded alliance, the DOT is proposing to conduct a review of its grant of antitrust immunity every five years. The department would also prohibit the alliance from requiring members to enter into exclusivity agreements within the U.S.-Europe marketplace.
Interested parties now have 14 days to comment on the DOT proposal ahead of an eventual final order.