RTE News has learned that the three top executives at Aer Lingus, including its chief executive Willie Walsh, have resigned from the airline.

Mr Walsh, along with the chief operations officer Seamus Kearney and chief financial officer Brian Dunne, will leave the airline in May.

Earlier this year, the three men sought permission from the Government to pursue a management buy out of the airline, however they subsequently announced that they were abandoning that plan.

It is unclear as yet what the three executives will do after leaving Aer Lingus.

Transport Minister Martin Cullen said in a statement that his department has learned 'with regret' of the three resignations. He said the three had made a huge contribution to the turnaround in the airline's fortunes over the past three years.

The Minister said he will be meeting with Aer Lingus Chairman John Sharman over the coming days. 'My desire and that of the Government to keep the airline on a sustainable growth path is undiminished by today's development,' Minister Cullen said.

'A new management team will be charged with consolidating the progress of recent years and building for the future,' his statement concluded.

* Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has paid tribute to the work of the three executives, but said it was still his view that their plan for a management buy out had been the wrong one for the airline.  

However, the chairman of the Progressive Democrats parliamentary party, Senator Tom Morrissey, said the development was a rude wake up call for the Government which now needed to be pro-active in its approach to the company.