Aer Lingus has said it is hoping for small growth in passenger numbers this year but its main target will be to maintain passenger numbers at 2010 levels in what remains a challenging environment.

The airline’s Chief Executive Christoph Mueller was speaking as its newest aircraft, painted in the airline's 1960s livery to mark the 75th birthday of Aer Lingus, was unveiled.

He said: ‘We lost 10% of our passengers last year due to the circumstances here in the economy. We hope we can keep the same passenger numbers for 2011 and maybe a little bit more. That depends pretty much on how tourism develops here in Ireland.’

Mr Mueller said the airline has ‘some optimism’ but expected a ‘longer and slower recovery’ in visitor numbers and ‘that is why our capacity for 2011 is largely the same as 2010’.

Last year, Aer Lingus carried 9.6m passengers on its aircraft.