AER LINGUS has reported strong traffic growth for March, led by a double-digit increase in the number of its long-haul passengers travelling to and from Ireland.
The increase is evidence that 'The Gathering' initiative to attract tourists, and Aer Lingus's recently signed code share agreements with US partners, are bearing fruit, Dublin-based stockbrokers Goodbody said.
Total passenger numbers in the month increased by 4.3pc compared to March 2012. Traffic in the year to date is up 2.2pc, in line with market expectations.
Some of the latest growth was due to increased flights around the Easter break, but March only recorded outgoing Easter traffic. Passengers flying back from Easter holidays in the first days of April should make for positive traffic figures next week, too.
The airline recently expanded a code-sharing agreement with United Airlines on several new routes, which will mean that passengers can travel seamlessly between these airlines without the need to remove baggage.
Shares in Aer Lingus fell 1.16pc yesterday, hit by a wider fall in aviation sector shares as sentiment soured as a result of concerns over the spread of bird flu in China.
The traffic results show that Aer Lingus's growth is now dominated by its long-haul business. Its short-haul traffic has contracted by 0.5pc in the year to date, though the airline has reduced short-haul capacity by 7pc.
Long-haul traffic was up 13.7pc in March and is up 8.4pc in the year to date; long-haul capacity has been increased by 3.5pc in the last year.
However, the bulk of the airline's passengers still travel on its short-haul routes within Europe. Aer Lingus carried 674,000 short-haul passengers in March in comparison to 83,000 long-haul passengers.
Its regional business is performing well and carried 87,000 people in March, an increase of almost 20pc on the same month last year.
Aer Lingus Regional announced expansion plans on Thursday, including new routes to Birmingham, Manchester and a new London hub at London Southend airport.