Mueller backs airports' sale as Aer Lingus posts operating profit
AER Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller said he would support the sale of Cork and Shannon airports, describing the auction of state-owned infrastructure assets as delivering a "moment of truth" in terms of their business case.
He was speaking as the airline reported its first move into the black since 2007, posting an operating profit before exceptional items of €57.6m for 2010.
However, he conceded that pushing through the sale of the airports to the private sector -- a move that is also supported by Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary -- would be difficult.
The 2010 result compared to an operating loss of €81m before exceptional costs in 2009. Profit before tax was €30.4m last year compared to a pre-tax loss of almost €155m in 2009. Its long-haul routes were also profitable last year.
Mr Mueller made the comments yesterday as Revenue at the airline, where Mr Mueller took over in 2009, was essentially flat last year, edging 0.8pc higher to €1.21bn, even as the number of passengers fell 10pc compared to 2009, to 9.34m.
Operating costs at the carrier were 10pc lower at €1.15bn, while the average yield per passenger was up 12pc.
Despite this, Mr Mueller warned investors yesterday that profits this year could be "significantly below" those recorded for 2010 if the current spike in fuel prices continues. However, he stressed that the company would be profitable for the period.
Fuel accounted for €266m, or 23pc of the €1.15bn in operating costs at Aer Lingus last year, although the figure was almost 20pc lower than in 2009.
The carrier has 62pc of its 2011 fuel requirements hedged at $788 a tonne.
Jet-fuel prices have risen by 39pc in the past year and by over 5pc in the past month. Every sustained $50 rise in the price per tonne of fuel this year will cost Aer Lingus about €6m. The shares fell 4.2pc to 90 cent.