Aer Lingus shores up Ryanair defence with strong first half

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Irish operator Aer Lingus has again urged shareholders to rebuff Ryanair's takeover offer, after the flag-carrier cut operating losses by more than 80%, to €4.4 million ($5.4 million) in the first half.

It also posted a higher operating profit in the second quarter, up 18% to €31.7 million, and the carrier is predicting a full-year figure, before exceptionals, at least equal to the €49 million achieved in 2011.

Aer Lingus attributes the strong quarterly result to good revenue performance, following a 3.4% rise in passenger numbers, and a 6.3% increase in yield per passenger.

Over the first half long-haul performance was "particularly strong", says the airline, with passenger volumes up 11% and yields up 9%.

Revenues in the first half increased by more than 10% while operating costs rose by less than 6% - primarily the result of a near-30% hike in fuel expenditure.

"These results clearly demonstrate that our strategy of building a leaner and more efficient Aer Lingus is working," says chief executive Christoph Mueller.

He reiterates the board's recommendation that shareholders reject the takeover offer formally submitted by Ryanair on 17 July.

Aer Lingus has today stressed to shareholders that an increase in route overlap between the two carriers gives the board "no reason to believe" that a Ryanair acquisition would pass anti-competitive scrutiny by the European Commission.

The flag-carrier has issued figures showing that the number of overlapping routes from Dublin, Cork, Shannon and Knock has increased from 35 to 50 since 2007.

Aer Lingus and Ryanair were the only operators on 22 of these routes five years ago, it says, but this number has doubled to reach 44 this year.

It also claims that Ryanair could again offer to surrender several Aer Lingus slots at London Heathrow as a competition remedy, a move which Aer Lingus says "could jeopardise" connectivity from Ireland via Heathrow.