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Aer Lingus looking for overseas partners

Aer Lingus, the state-owned Irish flag carrier, expects to have identified potential strategic alliance partners by the end of this year in a move which could see equity stakes in the airline being offered to overseas carriers.

The move, which will in effect mean the part privatisation of Aer Lingus, could result in up to 49 per cent of the airline being surrendered by the Irish government.

Bernie Cahill, Aer Lingus's chairman, said yesterday that the airline's improved financial situation had enhanced the prospects of finding suitable partners.

He was speaking as Aer Lingus reported an increase in pre-tax profits from pounds 18.2m to pounds 41.7m last year. The sharp rise was largely due to a pounds 19m fall in interest charges and exceptional gains in 1996 compared with one- off charges the previous year.

Gary McGann, Aer Lingus's chief executive, said it was unlikely that the airline would have signed alliances and given up equity stakes by the end of the year.

But he added: "I am confident that we will have a clear proposition to put to the government." The airline, he said, was looking at alliances in both the US and Europe.