The European Union's competition regulators have paused their antitrust probe into the bid by Air Canada (AC, Montréal Trudeau) to buy the tour operator Transat AT and its carrier Air Transat (TS, Montréal Trudeau), for as long as it takes for the companies to provide further data.

As previously reported, the European Commission opened a four-month investigation on May 25, spurred by worries that the deal may result in less choice and higher fares for flights between Europe and Canada.

It said at the time that it would take 90 working days, until September 30, to make a decision. But on June 18, it halted the probe.

A preliminary review by the EU's executive branch found that the deal may significantly reduce competition on 33 city pairs between the two jurisdictions.

"This procedure in merger investigations is activated if the parties fail to provide, in a timely fashion, an important piece of information that the Commission has requested from them," it explained to the Reuters news agency.

"Once the missing information is supplied by the parties, the clock is re-started, and the deadline for the Commission's decision is then adjusted accordingly," it added.

This would mean that the September 30 deadline would be extended by the time it takes to receive this data, the nature of which was not specified. Transat has said it expects to close the acquisition in the fourth quarter of this year.

Transat told the Canadian Press news agency that the dates had been pushed "slightly" beyond the initial September deadline.

The Canadian Competition Bureau had warned in March that eliminating the rivalry between the two Montréal Trudeau-based carriers would discourage competition, ultimately resulting in less travel. A deal would give Air Canada control of more than 60% of passenger capacity on transatlantic routes from Canada as well as 45% of routes to "sun destinations" to the south, the bureau said.