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British Airways' owner IAG has said it is considering making an offer to buy low-priced carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle. The shareholding "is meant to establish a position from which to initiate discussions with Norwegian, including the possibility of a full offer for Norwegian".

The company already operates the Aer Lingus, British Airways, Vueling and Iberia airlines.

The news prompted a 26% rise in Norwegian's shares before trading was suspended on the Oslo Stock Exchange.

IAG's interest in Norwegian is likely driven in part by the Norwegian's strong presence in London, where it is the third-largest carrier at Gatwick airport. It would also put IAG into the pole position in the long-haul, low-priced market, for which Norwegian has been building a large base at London-Gatwick airport. The airline did not immediately comment on the IAG plans.

Shares in Norwegian rose sharply today after IAG purchased a 4.6% stake in the budget airline. "Norwegian believes that interest from one of the largest worldwide groups demonstrates the sustainability and potential of our business model and global growth", it said in a statement.

IAG is considering Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA as an "attractive investment", but reaffirms that no talks for a takeover had been conducted, and there is no absolute certainty that the holding will pursue a full acquisition. Ryanair is now the biggest European airline in terms of passengers flown - or at least it was until 2017, when a snafu with pilot holiday time schedules led to the cancellation of thousands of flights (and Lufthansa Group grabbed the title).