Aer Lingus Chairman Colm Barrington has told shareholders at the company's AGM that the airline will pay a 3 cent per share dividend this year.

He warned however that, despite positive trading results, weak consumer demand in Ireland remains one of its main challenges along with increased fuel prices.

The airline said it will be making no further comments on the recent acquisition of shares by Abu Dhabi airline Etihad, as a confidentiality agreement had been signed.

Mr. Barrington said they were, however, exploring commercial opportunities such as code-sharing with Etihad.

He also said while it was clear the government would sell its 25% stake in the former state carrier, it was unclear when this may happen.

Prior to the AGM, the company had earlier said that intends to pay a dividend for the years in which it makes an operating profit.

This will depend on whether the payment of the dividend is ''appropriate and prudent'' in the context of the group's financial position and prospects, it added.

Ryanair chief financial officer Howard Millar, speaking from the floor of the AGM, as a representative of the largest single shareholders in the company, described the the dividend to be paid as "paltry" and "scrooge-like" while Aer Lingus was sitting on a stockpile of cash. He said Etihad could not take the airline over as EU rules would prevent this.

Aer Lingus said passenger numbers were up 6.6% and revenues were up 15%. They said their transatlantic routes in particular were performing well.

Colm Barrington said they were satisfied with the company's performance while many challenges remained within the Irish economy as a whole.

Shares close down despite earlier rally

Shares in the airline closed this evening at €0.97 down 1.52% having reached €1.00 at lunchtime.

That followed the announcement that it intends to declare an dividend of three cent per share which will be paid in July. Aer Lingus reported an operating profit of €49.1m for 2011.

It added that it also expects to pay an annual dividend of about 3 per cent per share in each of the next two years.

''The board believes this dividend represents a reasonable proportion of profitability and will not be detrimental to Aer Lingus' financial strength,'' the company added in today's statement.

It said it believes an ongoing, sustainable dividend policy is more appropriate for Aer Lingus and it shareholders at this present time than a special dividend or some other form of non-recurring return of capital.

Aer Lingus passenger numbers fly higher in April

Aer Lingus said its total flown passenger numbers - including its regional operations - increased by 2.3% in April.

The airline said it passengers numbers in April rose by 1.4% to 811,000.

Its short haul passenger numbers last month edged 0.7% higher to 732,000 compared to the same time last year. Long haul passenger numbers increased by 8.2% to 79,000.

Aer Lingus said its load factor in April increased by 2.8 points to 72.7%.

Its short haul load factor rose by 1.4 points to 71.4% as capacity fell by 1.1%. Its long haul load factor was 75.1% in April, up 5.6 points on the same time last year, while capacity was in line with April 2011.

Aer Lingus has appointed Ravindra Simhambhalta as its chief technology officer. Mr Simhambhalta most recently worked for Tesla Motors. He will join Aer Lingus in June and will have responsibility for the leadership of the Information Solutions and Services team.