AER ARANN TARGETS PASSENGER NUMBERS OF 2 MILLION WITHIN FIVE YEARS - Aer Arann - which operates the Aer Lingus Regional service - has said it will create 50 jobs over the next 12 months and wants to double its passenger numbers to two million a year over the next five years. The new jobs will be for cabin crew, engineering and support roles and will bring staff numbers to 370. A new strategy at the airline aims to make it one of the top European regional airlines.

Sean Brogan, Aer Arann's interim chief executive officer, says the airline secured a new investment just before Christmas and its new structure allowed it to conduct detailed analysis of the routes that were forming best for the airline. Mr Brogan says that Aer Arann will see the delivery of seven new planes between now and March while it also extended its Aer Lingus franchise deal until 2022. Passenger numbers at the airline grew to 1.2 million last year, and Mr Brogan says it is aiming to grow passenger numbers to 2 million over the next five years.

Mr Brogan says that the airline now has 550 flights across 27 routes, and its best performing routes include those between Dublin and Edinburgh and Dublin to Southend. He also says the airline's connectivity to the US is proving very popular, with passengers using their services to fly into Dublin and then the Aer Lingus service on to the US. He says the baggage holds and overhead bins on the new planes have been redesigned to make room for the bigger suitcases used by long haul passengers. The Aer Arann interim CEO also says the airline is facing the challenges of higher fuel costs and airport charges.


FASTNET DOES FIRST EXPLORATORY WORK ON KINSALE SINCE 1970s - Fastnet Oil and Gas has said there could be a significant amount of oil in the Celtic Sea, immediately below the Kinsale gas field. Cathal Friel, Fastnet's chairman, says that its study on the site was the first such work done on Kinsale since 1973. Explaining that such a study can not be carried out until the gas runs out, he says that the site is right beside the Barryroe site where it is estimated that 756 million barrels of recoverable oil are in place.


MORNING BRIEFS - Three former top executives at car maker Saab Automotive have been arrested on suspicion of accounting fraud, or aggravated attempts to avoid tax controls. It is alleged that the three falsified parts of Saab Automobile's accounts between 2010 and 2011. The three worked for Saab during the time it was owned by Dutch luxury car maker Spyker, which bought the Swedish firm from General Motors in 2010. It is now owned by National Electric Vehicle Sweden, a Hong Kong based firm, which is planning to make electric cars carrying the Saab badge.

*** Apple, in the news for tax reasons over the last few days, remains the top global brand with an estimated value of $185 billion, according to an annual ranking by WPP and Millward Brown. The second most valuable global brand according to the ranking - and overtaking "Old Tech" IBM at number 3 - is Google, valued at $114 billion. McDonalds and Coca Cola are next, followed by telecoms firm AT&T and at number seven Microsoft - which has just unveiled its new Xbox console. Big tobacco brand Marlboro is eighth in the top global brands, followed by Visa and China Mobile.

*** Fresh fruit and vegetable firm Total Produce says it is sticking to its earnings target of 8 to 8.8 cent per share for this year. It says that since the end of its financial year it has concluded an agreement to buy a 65% shareholding in the North American Oppenheimer Group, in two stages over five years. Last month it also sold its 25.3% shareholding in Capespan Group for €22 million. The group says it still looking for attractive acquisition opportunities to further expand.