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Aer Lingus operating profit exceeded pre-Covid 2019 in third quarter

The airline said it is experiencing increased seasonality in the business and continuing high fuel prices

Aer Lingus could base new aircraft at Manchester Airport if Dublin continues to cap passenger numbers, according to the airline’s chief executive, Lynne Embleton.

Planning permission limits Dublin Airport’s total passenger numbers to 32 million a-year, a figure that owner State company DAA wants increased to 40 million.

Speaking after Aer Lingus reported that it earned €196 million profit during the key summer period, Ms Embleton acknowledged that basing new aircraft at Manchester Airport, where the airline already has a base, was an option if the cap remained.

DAA has told Aer Lingus to limit ad hoc services next year to allow the airport to remain within its cap. The airline’s chief executive pointed out that flights that brought 40,000 tourists to last August’s American Football game between Notre Dame and the Navy were “ad hoc”.

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“It is shooting Ireland in the toe by proposing this cap,” she said. Ms Embleton added that the airline would be meeting DAA shortly to discuss the limit’s likely impact on 2024 schedules.

She argued that it was completely unacceptable for the State company to ask Aer Lingus to limit services while it was marketing Dublin Airport to other carriers around the world.

Meanwhile, Ms Embleton noted that business travel continued to lag pre-pandemic levels, but leisure was doing well.

Aer Lingus earned an operating profit before once-off charges of €196 million in the three months to the end of September, beating its performance in the equivalent quarters of both 2022 and pre-Covid 2019.

The figure was up 41 per cent on the €139 million in generated in the third quarter of last year and up 16 per cent on €169 million it made it the third quarter of 2019.

However, the €236 million operating profit before exceptional items the airline has generated in the first nine months of the year was still lagging the €247 million it made in the same period of 2019.

Aer Lingus’ total revenue increased by 16 per cent, driving profit growth and operating margins of 25.5 per cent, despite cost headwinds. Capacity increased by 15 per cent across both long-haul and short-haul over the summer, with the largest long-haul schedule ever. The Irish airline took delivery of one new aircraft in the first nine months of the year, an Airbus A320neo.

Parent group IAG said it had reached wage agreements with cabin crew at Aer Lingus while discussions were “ongoing” with pilots and maintenance teams at the airline.

Next year, Aer Lingus will return to Minneapolis and fly new routes to Denver and Colorado. Premium leisure on the transatlantic network was described by International Airlines Group (IAG) – the airline’s parent – as “particularly strong”, driving record load factors in business cabins.

A spokeswoman for Aer Lingus said the airline’s performance was driven by “very strong demand” for travel through the summer.

She said the performance allows Aer Lingus to continue to focus on repairing the airline’s balance sheet which is “key to funding future investment”.

“The positive financial performance in the quarter reflected strong demand for leisure travel on both short haul and long haul routes,” she said.

The spokeswoman said the lag in operating profit in the year to date compared with 2019 was down to “a challenging first quarter” of 2023 and higher operating costs.

Aer Lingus boosted seats on short-haul services by 14 per cent and by 15 per cent on transatlantic routes.

Holiday destinations and European city routes performed well with strong demand, including transatlantic customers transferring between North.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas