Irish carrier is invited to join its 'centre of excellence' initiative
Etihad boss James Hogan has insisted Aer Lingus has a future and wants to increase ties with the Irish carrier, he told the Irish Independent.
Mr Hogan said that Etihad, which owns close to 3pc of Aer Lingus, is keen to see the Irish carrier join the Gulf carrier's centre of excellence programme, where its partners can save money on everything from aircraft purchases to training and technology. The two airlines already operate a codeshare agreement.
But Mr Hogan declined to comment directly on Ryanair's latest effort to acquire Aer Lingus.
"For me to step in with a view on what could or could not happen, as a shareholder in Aer Lingus, is inappropriate," said Mr Hogan.
"We've always been very clear that we believe the Aer Lingus management have done a great job," said Mr Hogan. "If you look at the evolution of the business, the restructuring – they've met their milestones and have a strong cash position.
"We were pleased to take a small investment," he added.
Aer Lingus will soon release what are expected to be strong preliminary results for 2012.
Mr Hogan has made no secret of the fact that Etihad, which is based in Abu Dhabi and flies to the emirate from Dublin, would be interested in boosting its stake in Aer Lingus.
The airline chief was in Dublin to attend the Global Airfinance Conference, hosted by Euromoney Seminars.
He said that the so-called centre of excellence has already saved Air Berlin a substantial amount of money. Etihad owns close to 30pc of the German carrier.
The European Commission has just extended to March 6 a deadline to decide on Ryanair's proposal to buy Aer Lingus.
Ryanair has intensified efforts to appease competition concerns Brussels has over a takeover of Aer Lingus.
Struggling UK regional airline Flybe yesterday confirmed that it has held discussions with Ryanair regarding the future of the existing Aer Lingus short-haul network. Ryanair has told the European Commission that it would be willing to hand over about 43 routes – or half the Aer Lingus short-haul total – to Flybe as part of its remedy package to alleviate competition concerns.
"The discussions are also highly conditional given the status of Ryanair's offer, the uncertainty of the outcome of the Commission's deliberations and the expected lead times around any implementation of the proposed remedies," said Flybe.
The Government, which controls 25.1pc of Aer Lingus, has indicated that it is unwilling to sell the stake to Ryanair.