Dermot Mannion, the head of Aer Lingus, has stepped down as chief executive of the Irish airline, it was announced Monday.

"My decision to step down will allow a new CEO to bring fresh thinking and new ideas to the business," Mannion said in a statement.

The current Aer Lingus finance director, Seán Coyle, is thought to be in the running for the vacated position.

It’s been a turbulent year for the company – less than a month ago, it announced a pretax loss of $161 million for 2008.

Mannion was the airline head since August 2005, taking over from Willie Walsh, who went on to head British Airways. During that time Mannion, who left Emirates Airlines for Aer Lingus, introduced new long-haul routes to the U.S. and the Middle East.

He also oversaw the privatization of the Aer Lingus when the Irish Government sold its majority stake in the company, which was floated on the Irish stock exchange in 2006.

During his period as the head of the company, Mannion battled against trade unions that were unhappy at various cost cutting measures, and he also helped prevent two unsuccessful acquisition bids by rival Irish airline, Ryanair.

He also took the very controversial move to discontinue flights from Shannon, County Limerick to London’s Heathrow – a very unpopular decision in a region heavily dependent on tourism. After 14 months, the company partially restored some of the service.

He leaves Aer Lingus, which has been hard hit by the current economic downturn, at an extremely challenging period.

The company’s chairman, Colm Barrington will take over from Mannion until the vacated position is filled.

"Against the backdrop of challenging market conditions, the board and management team are focused on maximizing revenues, reducing operating costs while maintaining a strong balance sheet to deliver value for all shareholders," Barrington said.