By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Irish government is to reexamine last year’s decision to hold onto a majority stake in Aer Lingus in a future flotation or trade sale, according to new Transport Minister Seamus Brennan.
Brennan said the decision to sell just a minority stake will be reviewed once the airline’s survival plan has been fully implemented.
Last October, the government approved the part-privatization of the airline with Brennan’s predecessor, Mary O’Rourke, saying the State intended to retain a 51 percent stake.
The airline’s staff owns 14.9 percent of the company.
“As the months go on and I am satisfied that we have a strong Aer Lingus and the survival plan is working, I will talk to all the interested parties about the future of the company and what is right for the country and the company,” Brennan told the Irish Times.
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“Whatever the future of Aer Lingus is, whatever the structure of it is in the future, one thing I am determined about is that it is healthy.”
Previously the government had decided not to sell the entire 85.1 percent share for a number of reasons, including the fact that bilateral agreements with the U.S. gives it access to airports there on the basis that it is state-owned.
A flotation of the airline has been on the government’s agenda since 1999, as it needs investment for new planes and development.
Documents released to the Sunday Business Post Under the Freedom of Information Act show that the aborted public offering of shares has so far cost the taxpayer euro 5.21 million in payments for consultants, advertisers and public relations services.
The documents reveal the government paid the airline euro 6.7 million in compensation for the closure of airports and the international travel disruption in the days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. The payment was cleared by the European Union.
A search for an investor was put on hold last year when the airline saw passenger numbers plummet in the wake of the effects of the foot-and-mouth-disease crisis on Ireland and the fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks.
The company lost euro 140 million last year and another euro 20 million in the first four months of this year. The recent five-day stoppage as a result of the dispute with pilots cost over euro 2 million a day.