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Aer Lingus to add European routes, building on growth in region

Aer Lingus Plc, the Irish airline trying to fend off a hostile takeover bid from Ryanair Holdings Plc, plans to add routes within Europe, building on passenger numbers in the region that gained 8.9% last month.

New destinations served from Aer Lingus's Dublin base next year will include Milan Malpensa airport, Athens and Newcastle, England, the airline said today in a Regulatory News Service statement. Other routes planned include Cork, Ireland, to Madrid, Prague and Manchester, England. “The increases announced today respond to customer demand for our services and we look forward to continuing the expansion of our short-haul network from Ireland,” CEO Dermot Mannion said in the statement. Ryanair made a €1.48 billion bid ($1.88 billion) for Aer Lingus on October 23 to combine Ireland's two dominant carriers and add passengers in Europe and the US Aer Lingus management, the government, unions and pilots have all rejected the offer by Ryanair, Europe's biggest low-cost carrier. Existing routes out of Dublin that will gain flights in next year's expansion include Budapest, Geneva, Berlin and Barcelona, Spain, Aer Lingus said. Capacity will rise 8%, including additional flights on existing routes, Commercial Director Enda Corneille said in an interview on Ireland's RTE radio. September passenger numbers rose 6.4% from a year earlier to 777,000 travelers as more people flew on routes within Europe, Aer Lingus said in a separate statement today. Short-haul routes' traffic, or the number of passengers multiplied by the distance flown, surged 19% from a year earlier in September. Long-haul passenger numbers dropped 9.2% and traffic on the routes also fell 9.2%, the company said. A spokesman said he couldn't immediately give a networkwide traffic figure. Shares of Aer Lingus were unchanged at €2.84 as of 9:08 a.m. in Dublin. Shares of Ryanair were down 2 euro cents, or 0.2%, at €8.80 after declining as much as 0.8%. Ryanair started a European antitrust review of its bid to buy Aer Lingus. The companies notified the transaction to the European Commission, the 25-nation European Union's regulator, on October 30. The regulator will rule by December 6, according to its Web site. (Bloomberg)