Christoph Mueller feeling magnanimous

Outgoing Aer Lingus chief executive lauds Ryanair counterpart Michael O’Leary as ‘one of the best airline executives in the last 100 years of aviation’

It might be because he's heading for the exit door, but Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller was in magnanimous mood yesterday about his Ryanair counterpart Michael O'Leary, who has been often been a thorn in his side.

"Michael O'Leary is without any doubt one of the best airline executives in the last 100 years of aviation," Mueller said in an interview with The Irish Times Business Podcast, published on today.

Ryanair owns 29.8 per cent of Aer Lingus and made a third run at its Irish rival during Mueller’s five years. Yet the Aer Lingus boss said they have a “professional relationship”. What’s it like having your biggest rival as your biggest shareholder?

“First of all, it’s very unusual that someone who is buying 30 per cent in a company has not so many good things to say about the company,” Mueller said. “Normally, you would expect a certain loyalty from shareholders to their property. We unfortunately have never benefitted from that support.”


What impact might the new, customer friendly model being adopted by Ryanair have on Aer Lingus? “We are flattered of course because it is a carbon copy of what we have introduced five years ago as our new strategy.

“Every airline in the world wants to have higher yielding customers. It’s like a two-star hotel wanting to be a three-star and so on. That’s easily said but more difficult to do. But I’m absolutely certain [AS]Michael is an accountant that he has done the exercise of revenues minus costs.”

Mueller believes Aer Lingus is on the “last lap” of what has been an exhausting journey to resolve the deficit in the staff pension scheme. “It’s a lot of money. We have to be able to present to the shareholders a business case. It’s not a donation. A good portion of the €190 million is matched by savings from the employees to allow Aer Lingus have a better positioning in the years to come.”

On his decision to step down in May, Mueller said: “It was definitely my decision. I thought the job is done . . . I want to take up a completely new challenge.”

Will he stay in Ireland? “That is definitely what the Mueller family wants. We have been travelling the world over the last couple of decades. It is too early to speculate. Of course it will be a dream but I believe I will have to show some flexibility.”

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock is Business Editor of The Irish Times