From the Irish Examiner...
Aer Lingus net profit soars to €69.2m
By Ian Guider
AER LINGUS saw its net profits nearly double last year as further cost cuts and a 6% rise in passenger traffic moved earnings higher.
The State-owned carrier said its net profit last year was up 96% to €69.2 million. At operating level, profits were up 30% to €83m, ahead of the €75m target for the year.
According to the airline's chief executive Willie Walsh the profit was achieved due to a sharp fall in its cost base, with €89m in costs stripped out during 2003 and €344m since the airline was restructured in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
"The financial performance last year was very strong and when you consider the environment for us, it is pleasing to have exceeded our target and get an operating margin of over 9%. We made very significant progress in financial terms but there is still more we have to do," Mr Walsh said.
Turnover for the year dropped by 7.3% to €888.3m, despite a 6.2% rise in the number of passengers flown to 6.6 million.
Mr Walsh said the decrease in turnover was the result of lower fares to European destinations, which dropped 10% last year.
The airline expects average fares to drop by 10% this year and a further 10% next year.
To offset the fall in fares it expects further costs to be taken out of the business and increased efficiencies from staff, rising internet sales and new aircraft to come on stream.
"We are going to see a fall in revenue again in 2004 and that means more costs have to come out," Mr Walsh said.
The airline's operating margin rose from 6.7% to 9.3%, its highest ever, and left it on course for a margin of 15% of sales by 2006.
Both European and transatlantic passenger numbers were up, with a 3.9% rise to European destinations, despite a 4.8% fall in passengers on its London routes.
Passenger numbers on the airline's continental European routes were ahead by 27%, while it flew 1.1 million transatlantic passengers, a 19% rise on 2002.
Mr Walsh added that it was looking to open new routes to the United States, and had Dallas, San Francisco, Miami and Philadelphia in its sights. The airline is also looking at the possibility of services to Australia and south-east Asia.
On aerlingus.com, possibly to gauge demand to possible new service, Miami, Philadelphia, and San Francisco are on Aer Lingus' drop down list of destinations, even though they do not usually display destinations they do not fly to with their own aircraft.
I say Miami and San Francisco have the best shot. Can't speak for San Francisco, but the Miami-Ireland market is pretty big, and lot's of new oneWorld, one-stop connections are opened up.