BOTH Aer Lingus and rival EasyJet have posted disappointing passenger numbers for the first month of 2015.
The Irish flag carrier said mainline passenger numbers fell 4.5 per cent year-on-year in January to 546,000. Aer Lingus, which is subject to a potential takeover bid from British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG), said its long-haul flights saw 22 per cent growth for the period, but its more-prominent short-haul flights suffered a 7.6 per cent decline.
The numbers, which cover the post-Christmas lull typical in the airline market, add weight to sentiment the IAG offer is motivated by gaining access to gate slots at Heathrow airport rather than for Aer Lingus’ passenger base.
Aer Lingus, along with rival Ryanair, yesterday won a court challenge against a European Union regulatory ruling ordering them to repay state aid related to Ireland’s air travel tax.
The two carriers took their fight to the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg after the European Commission in 2012 said they had benefited from illegal state aid by paying a lower levy for domestic flights between 2009 and 2011.
The EU competition authority told Irish authorities to recover eight euros per passenger on short-haul flights from the airlines. Judges said the Commission's arguments were flawed.
Ireland had modified its air tax to a flat rate for all flights in 2011 following the Commission’s investigation.
Meanwhile, discount carrier EasyJet had a flat start to 2015 with just over 1,000 extra passengers compared to the same month last year, while its load factor – the percentage of filled seats aboard a flight – dipped slightly from 85.4 per cent to 85.1 per cent.