Thursday 21 September 2017

New EC plan to have little impact on State's Aer Lingus stake

AVIATION

John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The value of the Government's 25pc stake in Aer Lingus is unlikely to rise significantly even as the European Commission proposes sweeping changes to the aviation sector.

The European Commission has proposed that airlines across Europe be permitted to buy and sell take-off and landing slots at airports in the union.

The decision marks a fundamental shift for the aviation sector.

Combined with improved ground handling operations, the EC is hoping to avert what it described as an impending "capacity crunch" at busy airports. It is predicted that passenger air traffic will nearly double in Europe by 2030.

In the UK, slot trading already takes place at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Heathrow

Aer Lingus owns 23 slots at London's Heathrow Airport. It's the fourth-largest holder of the valuable slots after British Airways, BMI and Virgin Atlantic.

But the trading system is opaque, and the value of specific trades between airlines isn't publicly disclosed.

The EC proposal would see airports file an annual statement of the aggregate value and number of trades that took place in a 12-month period.

That will at least enable airlines to determine the average price of slots.

With the Aer Lingus share price currently placing a market capitalisation of €371m on the airline, the Government's stake on that basis is worth just €93m. The Government is currently mulling a sale of the holding.

Analysts said yesterday that the real overhang for the airline's stock continued to be the massive deficit at a joint pension scheme operated for former and current staff members at Aer Lingus, the Dublin Airport Authority and SR Technics. That deficit needs to be addressed by the end of this month.

Irish Independent

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