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New blow for Aer Lingus as ticket sales drop 3.5pc

passenger numbers at Aer Lingus fell back in February after modest growth in the previous month in a new setback for the Irish airline.

The number of passengers decreased by 3.5pc to 664,000 compared to February 2009.

In January, the group had enjoyed marginal growth of 0.6pc to 665,000.

However the latest figures show that long haul passenger numbers are on a serious decline, falling by 32.4pc year-on-year.

The number of short haul passengers fell back by 0.3pc.

The load factor, a measure of how well the airline is filling seats, was listed at 69.9pc.

The airline is currently steering a €97m cuts programme which includes staff cost reductions of €74m and approximately 700 redundancies.

However, Aer Lingus has threatened that over 1,100 staff will receive compulsory redundancies if they do not approve the plans.

It is understood that chief executive Christoph Mueller has briefed his management team to prepare 'Plan B' to secure the required cost savings through compulsory redundancies and a significant fleet reduction.

The unions are asking members to sign up to a package that will result in 676 redundancies, pay cuts of up to 10pc and a three-year pay freeze.

Siptu and Impact unions have begun to ballot their members on the proposals and the results of the votes are expected to be revealed next week.

However, it is understood that management now fear staff may not accept the proposals.

The group said that its short haul load factor was 70.8pc, down 6.7 points on 2009, with capacity increasing by 12.7pc.

Long haul load factor was 67.7pc, an increase of 3.4 points on 2009, with capacity decreasing by 37.5pc.

Meanwhile, the controversial Hangar 6 at Dublin Airport, which was at the centre of a row between Ryanair and the Irish government, will now be used as a new staff operations centre for Aer Lingus.

It already houses the airline's maintenance division and has space for 400 staff.

Last month, Aer Lingus secured a franchise agreement with Aer Arann to operate 12 routes to Britain and France and said that this move would create 30 new jobs.

Aer Arann said the deal would help push the airline's revenues this year above €100m from the 2009 level of €88m.