Leaner carrier ready to put turbulent times behind it
IT seems Aer Lingus may finally be ready to put its latest near-death experience behind it.
All things being equal, the airline appears to be on course to return to full-year profitability as a leaner, more focused and more reactive carrier.
A year into the job, Christoph Mueller looks like he has things firmly under control, but it's the potential external factors -- the spectre of a double-dip recession in Europe or the US , or a worse-than-anticipated economic performance in Ireland -- that could trip up the airline.
Still, even if economic woes in Ireland persist longer than expected, the staff cull and route retrenchment have already left Aer Lingus better placed to weather any further storms.
Rejoining an alliance is firmly on the agenda, but won't happen until Aer Lingus can prove it's back in the black.
Meanwhile, Aer Lingus, which will begin moving its operations to T2 later this year, has been experimenting with a new mid-tier fare structure and ways to boost ancillary revenue.
Business passengers are also booking more first-class seats on transatlantic flights, where an average of 50pc of premier-class seats are now being filled.
That compares with 30pc or less a year ago.
Davy Stockbrokers analyst Stephen Furlong now reckons that Aer Lingus could post an operating profit of anywhere between €10m and €20m for the whole of 2010.
While Mr Mueller pointed out yesterday that Aer Lingus shares had appreciated in the past couple of months (they're up 42pc since the beginning of the year), he didn't mention that they were still trading about 60pc lower than the 2006 flotation price of €2.20.
Clawing a path back to that level will take some doing, and at least some investors who rejected Ryanair's first takeover offer of €2.80 per share must still wonder why they ever did.
Regardless, it appears they must now have a good chance of regaining some paper losses. Shares yesterday closed down 2pc at 91 cent amid wider stock market carnage.