Aer Lingus has decided to cut the number of A330 aircraft it uses on long haul flights  to reduce costs as passengers numbers are down on transatlantic flights for the third quarter of this year.

The airline had eight A330 craft in operation this summer, but now have five in operation for winter. Furthermore, the company ended the lease on one of its A330 planes and plans to do the same with another.

The long haul figures for the third quarter of 2009 do not offer any encouragement, with passenger figures down 13.2 per cent

In the second and third quarters of 2009, Aer Lingus has been operating at a loss of €326m ($483M), compared to a profit of €52m ($77.8m) for the same period last year.

One glimmer of light for the company was the increase in passengers on short haul flights, with figures up by 10 per cent in the third quarter of this year.

“The action taken to remove capacity on underperforming parts of the network has had a positive impact on stabilizing load factors and yields while reducing operating costs,” said the company.

Former Aer Lingus CEO Willie Walsh has suggested that the Irish airline should consider a merger to remain in business.

“Given what has happened to the economy here and given the way Aer Lingus has struggled in recent times, you could now make an argument that its future as an independent carrier is not that secure and maybe Aer Lingus does need to look at a relationship with some other carrier or a number of other carriers,” Walsh is quoted as saying in the Belfast Telegraph.

Though Ryanair holds 30 per cent of shares and has twice tried to take over Aer Lingus, Walsh added that he thought a merger between the two is unlikely because of issues with competition.