Aer Lingus slashes operations at London Gatwick base

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Irish flag-carrier Aer Lingus is cutting back its London Gatwick base, less than a year after opening the station in a bid to expand its European operations.

The airline is withdrawing two of the five Airbus A320 aircraft based at Gatwick before April, and is deferring delivery of a pair of A320s on order by six months.

Aer Lingus is slashing its route network at Gatwick - which became the airline's first mainland UK base early last year - because it foresees weak demand for the first half of 2010.

"The group will therefore maintain its focus on tight capacity management to improve yields," it says.

Aer Lingus adds that the airline is also facing "continuing challenges in the UK operating environment".

Its London Gatwick network includes 14 destinations - among them routes to Munich, Vienna, Warsaw, Zurich and Vilnius - but the carrier says the three A320s remaining at Gatwick will only serve Dublin, Malaga, Knock and a new Cork route.

The changes will take effect from 31 March. Aer Lingus has also agreed to further deferral of Airbus deliveries, pushing back the arrival of two A320s from October-November 2010 to April-May 2011.

It states that the revised delivery schedule will come at "no additional cost" to the company.

Aer Lingus adds that, following measures already implemented to stem losses, it expects to make a "small" operating profit - before exceptional items - for the second half of 2009.

"This performance primarily reflects better-than-expected yields in the second half of 2009, which have been driven by removal of a long-haul aircraft in September and tactical route cancellations in November," it says.

Figures released today show that Aer Lingus' long-haul traffic was down by 19.6% for 2009, although short-haul rose by 8.6%.

Average long-haul load factor across the year increased marginally to 72.1% while that for short-haul rose by a point to 77.8%.