Aer Lingus A330-200. By Rob Finlayson

Aer Lingus (EI) reported a strong first-quarter performance in what is traditionally a loss-making period of the year for the Irish flag-carrier.

EI’s first-quarter operating loss was reduced by almost one-third, to €36.1 million ($47.4 million) compared to a loss of €53.7 million for the same period last year. Total first-quarter revenue was €251.5 million, up 15.4% on the same period last year.

The airline said that, although the figures were flattered by stripping out the adverse effects of industrial action by staff that had affected 2011’s results, it had nevertheless turned in a strong revenue performance, particularly in its long-haul operations and notably in its business-class cabin.

Long-haul fare revenues were up “significantly” by 24.6% to €52.7 million in the first quarter compared to the year-ago quarter, while short-haul revenues, which make up the bulk of the carrier’s services, rose 12.6% to €148.9 million.

Passenger volume was up 6.6%, while yields rose 8.4% overall.

EI CEO Christoph Mueller described the latest figures as “an encouraging start to 2012.”

With the Irish economy feeling the effect of severe austerity measures in the global downturn, he said, “We have deliberately compensated for the continuing decline in private Irish consumer demand with an increased focus on time-sensitive routes, which carry a higher proportion of business passengers.”

Mueller said the carrier now shares “the more upbeat view on industry trends expressed in IATA’s April 2012 airline business confidence survey and if current trends continue, Aer Lingus’ operating profit for 2012 should match that achieved in 2011.” EI’s 2011 operating profit before net exceptional items was €49.1 million (ATW Daily News, Feb. 29).

However, Mueller cautioned that the performance of some short-haul routes was weaker than expected and the carrier is still experiencing inflationary cost pressures.