Aer Lingus owner IAG said today it expected profits to rise by nearly 20% this year thanks to strong travel demand and lower costs.

The airline added that it was looking at opportunities left by the collapse of rivals. 

Air Berlin, Alitalia and Britain's Monarch have collapsed this year due to tough competition, yet some of Europe's major carriers, such as Lufthansa and now IAG have reported improving trends. 

But IAG's shares dropped nearly 4% in London trade, having hit an all time high on Wednesday, as analysts focused on the passenger unit revenue trend. The stock is up nearly 50% this year. 

The group said third-quarter operating profit before exceptional items rose 20.7% to €1.46 billion.

This was slightly ahead of a company-compiled analyst consensus of €1.4 billion, due to improvements in Spain and Latin America. 

The airline group, which also owns British Airways, Iberia and Vueling airlines, said it expected operating profit for the full year to be €3 billion before exceptional items, up 18.3% on last year. 

It had previously said it expected a double digit rise for the full year. 

"All our companies performed well," IAG's chief executive Willie Walsh said in a statement.

"Passenger unit revenue was up 2.2% at constant currency boosted by improvements in the Spanish and Latin American markets," he added. 

Analysts said that the consensus predictions for full-year profit were already pricing in strong double digit growth, and that the passenger unit revenue trend was weaker than at Lufthansa. 

Walsh said that consolidation in the sector was good for the industry and for consumers, and left opportunities for more efficient players such as IAG to grow. 

"IAG will continue to grow organically, and we've demonstrated we can do that efficiently," Walsh told reporters, adding that Vueling might have growth opportunities in Germany and Italy. 

Walsh confirmed IAG's interest in acquiring Monarch's airport slots at Gatwick, although ambiguity remains over the process by which the slots will be assigned.