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Etihad ponders purchase of stake in Aer Lingus

The chief executive of Abu Dhabi airline Etihad, James Hogan, is "ready to sit down" with the Irish Government if it formally puts its Aer Lingus stake up for sale.

Mr Hogan and his team "have looked" at Aer Lingus, but no discussions have taken place to date about a possible offer.

"When the government is ready to sit down, we're happy to sit down and talk to them," he said.

A spokesman at the Department of Transport in Dublin said there has been "strong interest" in the state's Aer Lingus stake.

"If a decision is made to sell, all expressions of interest will be considered," he said.

A decision on whether the stake will be sold isn't likely to be made for some time, however.

News of Etihad's continuing interest in Aer Lingus sent the Irish airline's shares nearly 7% higher at one point during yesterday's trading.

Based on the share price, the government's stake is worth about €123m. That's substantially less than its value when Aer Lingus made its stock market debut in 2006.

Mr Hogan, an Australian with Irish heritage, added that it's important in any decision to acquire a stake in an airline that management of that airline are supportive of the move.

He added that while he has met Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller, their engagements have not extended beyond "chit-chat". He stressed the pair have not touched on the subject of any potential Aer Lingus stake sale as it would be "inappropriate".

The Middle East's third biggest carrier recently agreed to boost its stake in Germany's Air Berlin to nearly 30% and bought a 40% stake in Air Seychelles.

The airline, which was launched in 2003, has been seeking acquisitions that will help it to increase its traffic. It's also interested in acquiring a stake in Virgin Australia. Mr Hogan said the airline's service out of Dublin continues to perform well.

Qatar Airways has also been tipped as a potential suitor for the Irish government's stake in Aer Lingus.