*To ask the Minister for Transport the matters discussed at his recent meeting with the Board of Aer Lingus; the Government's proposals for the future ownership structure of the company; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
- Jan O'Sullivan. (Nominated by: Róisín Shortall).
For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 26th November, 2002.
Ref No: 23457/02
Answered by Minister for Transport
At my meeting with the Board of Aer Lingus on 31st October, I firstly commended the Directors, management and staff of the airline for the turnaround in the Companys finances, which I believe is a reflection of the clear and committed efforts of all in addressing the serious situation which faced the airline in 2001.
I acknowledged the continued focus on efficiency improvements and cost control and I endorsed the strong focus of management and staff on putting in place a new culture in the airline which has led to the creation of a flexible, viable and competitive airline capable of meeting the challenges of the volatile and changing aviation market. I also welcomed the new route operations and new fares initiatives, which are significant, both to the Company in maintaining its position in the various markets and also to the overall economy. I indicated that all this progress was essential to restore profitability as the airline needs a strong balance sheet given its vulnerability to external shocks which cannot be easily predicted.
With regard to the future of Aer Lingus, I recalled to the Board the previous Governments decision in October 2001 to facilitate private sector and staff investment in the Company to support its future development provided the Survival Plan was fully implemented.
I stated that as the company moves into a new phase and as agreement has been reached with the Unions on the Summary Terms of a proposed new Employee Share Option Plan (ESOP) I now consider that the time is fast approaching to assess the future options for the airline taking account of the previous Governments decision. The Chairman and I undertook to address and discuss all the issues relevant to this matter quickly.
My officials will be consulting with the Company on this matter over the coming weeks and I expect to be in a position to bring a proposal to Government.