By Olivier Sorgho
Feb 23 (Reuters) - France's Getlink on Thursday forecast record core earnings for this year, after its new Eleclink unit and strong traffic across the Channel Tunnel helped it post a nearly threefold annual increase in profit.
"We're seeing a good start to the year on the passenger side," CEO Yann Leriche told reporters in a call, adding however that the performance of freight is more reliant on the broader U.K. economy, whose growth may be flat this year.
Getlink nonetheless expects a record annual core profit (EBITDA) this year of more than 910 millions euros, against the 886 million posted for 2022, and 297 million in 2021.
While staff shortages and strikes last year disrupted Europe's airports, forcing airlines to cancel thousands of flights, the easing of COVID-19 restrictions boosted traffic across Getlink's Channel Tunnel.
"If airports are disrupted, it could help us," Leriche said, adding that "more clients are telling us they don't want to take a flight ... for the France-Britain trip ... given the carbon footprint".
Getlink's Eleclink unit, an underwater cable enabling electricity exchange between France and the U.K., contributed 264 million euros in core profit since launching amid energy shortages in France last year. That figure comes after a provision of 142 million linked to a regulation from the European Commission to split some of Eleclink's profits with the U.K's National Grid and France's RTE.
Leriche said that for freight trucks, the group introduced a pricing surcharge tied to the price of energy, while Getlink in a statement added it plans to spend around 160 million euros this year on capital expenditures to improve the Eurotunnel.
Separately, the CEO of France's Eiffage, the French construction group which owns a nearly 19% stake in Getlink, on Wednesday said Eiffage would be open to raise its stake, though potentially crossing a threshold of 25-30% would depend on the share price. (Reporting by Olivier Sorgho; editing by Grant McCool)