Aer Lingus owner IAG today reported higher revenue and profits for 2018, but said it expected earnings will be flat this year. 

In its results for the 12 months to the end of December, the group - which also owns British Airways, Iberia and Vueling - reported profit after tax and exceptional items of €2.9 billion, an increase of 11% on 2017.

Total group revenue of €24.4 billion was 6.7% higher with increases in passenger, cargo and other revenues. 

Adjusted earnings per share came in at 117.7 cent, an increase of over 15% on 2017.

IAG said it expected earnings in 2019 to be flat after it weathered the impact of rising fuel costs and air traffic control disruption to meet expectations for its 2018 results. 

"This was a very good performance despite three significant challenges: fuel prices increasing 30%, considerable air traffic control disruption and an adverse foreign exchange impact of €129m," commented IAG's chief executive Willie Walsh. 

Mr Walsh said that the airline group's passenger unit revenue improved by 2.4% while non-fuel unit costs decreased by 0.8% on capacity growth of 6.1%.

He also said the airline group remains confident that there will be a comprehensive air transport deal between the UK and the EU after Brexit. 

On risks ahead of the airline, IAG said it would continue to evaluate and prepare for the potential changes after the UK's decision to leave the EU.

"As we move into 2019, there is continued political uncertainty, fuel price volatility, and the ongoing risk of impact to our operations and reputation as the frequency, nature and sophistication of cyber attack increases," IAG added.

In today's results statement, the group said it carried almost 113 million passengers last year, up 7.7% on 2017 levels. It load factor - how many seats it fills on each flight - rose by 0.7 points. 

IAG's board has proposed a final dividend of 16.5 cent per share, which brings the full year dividend to 31 cent per share.

The airline said that given its strong cash position, the board is proposing a special dividend of 35 cent per share, which will see about €700m returned to shareholders. 

IAG CEO Willie Walsh said today that the possibility of flights being grounded at the end of next month when the UK is due to leave the European Union has been ruled out.

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Willie Walsh said a framework had been negotiated and agreed at an EU level.

"The EU has been clear on this. Flights will continue. I remain confident that there will be a comprehensive air transport agreement between the EU and the UK."

"I can understand why people were expressing concerns a year ago, but there's been significant progress in the last 12 months. Everyone can be relaxed about what will happen in relation to aviation," he said.

IAG was de-listed from a number of global equity indices this week, precipitating a steep fall in the company's share price. This, Willie Walsh said, had nothing to do with Brexit.

"This is a restriction that has been in place in our bylaws since we created the company. It relates to non-EU shareholders. It's similar to a lot of airlines. Wizz did something similar a year ago and Ryanair, I think, did it too. It relates specifically to airline ownership."

He said some had read the decision as having to do with Brexit and reducing the level of non-EU shareholders in IAG. This, he said, was not the case.

"The timing of this relates to the increase in our non-EU shareholding. This was specifically US shareholders, but it has nothing to do with Brexit," he stressed.

The airline group CEO would not be drawn on what proportion of IAG shares are held by non-EU nationals as it was only made known to regulators. 

"Given that we've introduced the max permitted, it suggest that non EU shareholders are less than 50% but probably more than 40%," he added.

Willie Walsh Walsh said he had not seen evidence of a lull in demand to travel due to uncertainty around Britain's scheduled departure from the European Union on March 29. 

"We're not seeing anything specific around the end of March ... demand continues to be good," he said.

Shares in IAG were slightly lower in London trade following the results.

Meanwhile, Aer Lingus today reported an operating profit was €305m for 2018, a record performance for the airline.

In a separate statement, IAG said it would order 18 Boeing 777-9s and options for 24 more for British Airways to replace 14 747-400s and four 777-200s between 2022 and 2025. 

Industry sources said Airbus had been offering a combination of its A350 twin-engined long-range jet and the four-engined A380, the world's largest airliner which it has decided to stop building from 2022 due to weak demand. 

But IAG has voiced its dissatisfaction with the performance of Rolls Royce, which makes engines for the A350 and which today also withdrew from the race to power Boeing's mid-market plane. The 777-9 uses GE engines. 

"I have been frustrated, largely with the performance of Rolls Royce, not so much with Airbus," Walsh said, adding IAG had significant orders with Airbus. 

"This aircraft order is specific to the requirements of British Airways, where we needed a larger aircraft. There's still a lot for both Boeing and Airbus to play for, and we're pleased with the competition that we've seen," he said. 

Additional reporting by Reuters