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High Court judge expresses concern about Aer Lingus pension fund

A HIGH Court judge has expressed concern about aspects of an application by Aer Lingus Group for approval for a €500m share capital reduction in a situation where there is a €700m shortfall in the Aer Lingus pension fund.

After Mr Justice Peter Kelly raised the pension deficit in court today, he was told the matter may be the subject of litigation.

Paul Sreenan SC, for Aer Lingus, said the company took the view it had met all its obligations concerning payments but it anticipated there could be litigation or "industrial relations problems". There was no contingency provided for in relation to any such litigation, he said.

Counsel said the pension scheme was a shared pension scheme and Aer Lingus Ltd would be primarily liable if there was any liability found.

The issue was known about for some time and the company's legal aedvice was it would not be compelled to fund a deficit, he added.

Mr Justice Kelly said the court would require some assistance on the pension fund issue before it would permit the share capital reduction sought.

He agreed to Mr Sreenan's application to transfer the application for approval for the share capital reduction to the Commercial Court, made directions for the advertisement of that petition and listed it for hearing on July 18.

Mr Sreenan said a supplemental affidavit would be provided to addresses the pension deficit concerns. he also indicated the existing level of distributable reserves was sufficient to pay a 3 cent per share dividend and payment of any further dividend would depend on the company's performance.

The company is seeking approval for reduction of its non-distributable reserves from some €859.4m to €359.4m so as to allow for €500m to be credited as a profit available for distribution in the reserves of the company.

The application was grounded on an affidavit by Aer Lingus Group Chief Financial Officer Andrew MacFarlane, on behalf of the company.

Mr MacFarlane said the company had, in December 2011, an aggregate balance on its share premium account, capital conversion reserve fund and capital redemption reserve fund of some €860m with distributable reserves of some €57.3m.

The company was seeking approval for reduction of the two capital funds, and part of its share premium account, by up to €500m of its non-distributable reserves, he said. The proposed reduction would not affect the solvency of the company or prejudice the rights of any of its creditors or members, he said.

Mr MacFarlane said the company would not use the increased distributable reserves resulting from the proposed reduction to declare dividends or redeem or purchase any of the company's share capital unless the directors were satisfied doing so would not prejudice the company's ability to pay its debts as they fall due.