By Eamon Quinn
Aer Lingus has not ruled out expanding in Cork and Shannon as it plans a huge growth spurt across the Atlantic in the next five years, but Dublin appears likely to receive the lion’s share of the airline’s investment.
The expansion plans were released as part of a presentation to investors in London by Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, the owner of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Spain’s Iberia, and discounter Vueling, as well as fellow discounter Level. IAG also holds a stake of just under 5% in Norwegian Air.
Spearheading the growth across the Atlantic with its three main airlines, the plan helped propel IAG shares higher at one stage, before they pared gains. The bosses of the individual airlines outlined the parts they will play in the expansion.
Outgoing Aer Lingus chief Stephen Kavanagh hailed its “most ambitious plan” by increasing Aer Lingus planes flying across the North Atlantic to 30 from 17, by 2023.
The transatlantic expansion involves adding three Airbus A330 aircraft and introducing 14 A321LR Airbus planes.
“A new brand identity, new uniforms, dramatically increased marketing spend in North America, a free social media Wi-fi package and complimentary alcohol for all guests across the North Atlantic, combined with improved mobile web, Aer Club and self-service options will underpin a growth strategy that will see our North Atlantic fleet increase from 17 to 30 aircraft by 2023,’’ said Mr Kavanagh, who leaves the airline early next year after a 30-year career.
However, referring to the plans of the DAA, which owns Dublin and Cork airports, to invest heavily in Dublin Airport and the “demand-led” nature of its plans, Aer Lingus signalled that the bulk of the transatlantic expansion will be focused in Dublin.
Investment at Dublin Airport would help it to continue “to build our network and our hub at Dublin”, Mr Kavanagh said. At the London presentation, Mr Kavanagh said being part of a major group would help Aer Lingus to compete with Nordic operators Wow Air and Icelandair across the Atlantic. Norwegian Air has been seeking to rein in costs after it challenged the IAG airlines with a huge growth spurt in recent years.
BA boss Alex Cruz said it will hire 3,000 more staff next year, 2,000 of them cabin crew who will get five days more training to help address concerns about service quality. Iberia chief Luis Gallego said most of its growth will be focused on long-haul, driven by higher marketing spend in major Latin American markets including Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Brazil.
Additional reporting Bloomberg