Irish airline Aer Lingus expects to get a progress report next week on its application to take over former BMI routes between Edinburgh and Heathrow after announcing a 30 per cent jump in operating profits for the first nine months of the year.
The carrier, which is the subject of a takeover approach from low-cost rival Ryanair, is among a number of airlines bidding for the slots, which became available after BMI was acquired by International Airlines Group.
Virgin Atlantic is also vying to launch flights between Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Heathrow in an attempt to boost traffic against long-time rival British Airways, and aims to fly up to 700,000 passengers a year between Scotland and London.
Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller said: “The growth of our short-haul business in London Heathrow is dependent on the allocation of former BMI remedy slots for the operation to Edinburgh and we expect a decision as to the ranking of our application by the European Commission by 15 November.”
Mueller was speaking as the group reported an operating profit of €86.5 million (£69.4m) for the nine months to 30 September, up from €66.7m a year ago, on total passenger revenues 8 per cent higher at €1 billion.
He added: “We remain focused on achieving continued cost savings and greater efficiency within the business against a challenging macro-economic backdrop, an increasingly competitive environment and continued inflation in fuel prices and airport charges.”
Staff at the airline are due to stage a two-hour strike on 19 November in a dispute over a pension fund shortfall and Ryanair – which owns 30 per cent of the carrier – has offered to lease it aircraft to avoid disruption to flights.
Ryanair raised its own profit forecasts on Monday after unveiling a 10 per cent increase in first-half net profits to €596m, as passenger numbers grew 7 per cent to 48 million in the six months to 30 September.
Chief executive Michael O’Leary said the carrier remained cautious over the outlook for winter trading but the strong performance during the first half of the year gave it the confidence to raise its full-year profit forecast to between €490m and €520m, up from the previous range of €400m to €440m.
The budget airline has made two previous attempts to acquire Aer Lingus. Its first approach was blocked by European regulators in 2007, while a subsequent bid in 2009 was withdrawn.
It launched its latest €694m offer in June, arguing that consolidation in the airline sector meant its rival’s long-term future would be secured if it became part of a larger group.
A number of airlines have joined forces in recent years, with International Airlines Group – the owner of British Airways and Iberia – completing its purchase of BMI from German carrier Lufthansa in April. Lufthansa itself has acquired Swiss Air and Austrian Air, as well as taking stakes in SN Brussels and SAS.
O’Leary said on Monday that his airline had submitted an “unprecedented” package of measures to ease regulators’ concerns over its latest move.