Aer Lingus shareholders have formally approved the purchase of up to 18 new aircraft valued at up to $2.4bn at an Extraordinary General Meeting this afternoon.

The resolution was passed by shareholders by a margin of 63.6% in favour, to 36.4% against.

Ryanair, which owns 29% of Aer Lingus, voted against buying the new aircraft, saying that they could have been bought more cheaply.

Six A330-300 and six A 350-900 aircraft are due to be delivered between 2009 and 2016.

Aer Lingus has an option on a further six A350-900s to be delivered between 2016 and 2018.

Addressing the meeting, Chairman John Sharman said the fleet expansion would facilitate the company's long haul strategy, adding that Aer Lingus had negotiated significant discounts from the list price of $2.4bn.

He said the fleet acquisition would be financed through a mix of internally generated cash flow and external debt.

Mr Sharman said the new aircraft would be more environmentally acceptable, efficient, and cheaper to operate and maintain.

It later emerged that Ryanair, which has 29% of Aer Lingus, voted against buying the new aircraft, saying that they could have been bought more cheaply.

Chief Executive Dermot Mannion said he was confident that despite current international economic uncertainty, the airline would succeed in filling additional capacity offered by the new aircraft.

However, he declined to comment on the industrial dispute between management and ground staff represented by SIPTU, other than to welcome the fact that the cabin crew and pilots had accepted their productivity deals.

Talks to avert industrial action at Aer Lingus are continuing today between airline management and SIPTU.

The talks are aimed at resolving the row over new work practices that could trigger industrial action at Aer Lingus next week.

The airline told SIPTU's 1,800 ground staff yesterday that if they do not accept the controversial changes by next Tuesday evening they will close or outsource certain ground operations.