Aer Lingus will reconsider transatlantic flights from Cork as it takes delivery of new, smaller aircraft from 2022, its chief executive has said.
Sean Doyle told the Irish Examiner that as Aer Lingus takes delivery of new, smaller aircraft with fewer seats, it will reevaluate prospects for transatlantic flights.
“If you asked me six years ago would it work, I would say no, but looking at the technology there today we will evaluate it. Narrow body technology makes the economics a lot better. The A321LR and XLR aircraft have 182 seats instead of 330. Out of Ireland they can get to the US which they can’t do from other points in Europe.
“The fact you can get into the North Atlantic with a smaller aircraft means that routes which were too thin for a wide body aircraft may become viable in future and we’ll evaluate whether Cork is in that mix.”
Norwegian permanently axed its transatlantic routes from Cork to Providence - the first-ever transatlantic flights from Cork - in September last year, blaming the global grounding of 737MAX aircraft.
Aer Lingus has scrapped flights from Cork to Geneva, Dusseldorf and Brussels in recent years, as well as paring back routes to Amsterdam. It introduced new summer routes to Dubrovnik and Nice last year.
Speaking at a Cork Chamber business breakfast, Mr Doyle reaffirmed the airline’s commitment to Cork Airport and said it would also consider reintroducing a domestic route to Dublin and connections to Brussels.
“Cork will have to compete for [the new aircraft] with bases like Dublin and Shannon. The technology is very attractive, but the hurdle is still very high. Cork is a point to point market, flying to US markets which are point to point, so it’s harder to get confidence than at a hub where you get connecting traffic. We’ll work with the community on it, but there is a high hurdle to overcome.”
Mr Doyle, a UCC graduate and Cork native, was British Airways director of network, fleet and alliances before succeeding Stephen Kavanagh as Aer Lingus CEO in 2019.
He said there was potential to reintroduce both Brussels and Dublin routes from Cork in future.
“I’m looking to evaluate a Cork-Brussels service. We’re not ready to commit to it yet but I think it’s the most credible Euro cities opportunity we have.
“Since the road infrastructure improved, we don’t have the same level of demand to justify a Cork-Dublin air link. But what I’m conscious of is a lot of people here want to travel transatlantic with Aer Lingus and driving to Dublin the night before is an inconvenience. I reckon we’re bleeding traffic to Amsterdam and Heathrow so we are going to evaluate whether we could reinstate a smaller version of a Cork-Dublin network.”
Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group, will retire in March and be succeeded by current Iberia chief executive Luis Gallego. Asked what the impact of Mr Walsh’s departure might mean for Aer Lingus, Mr Doyle insisted it would be business as usual.
“I don’t see any change to our strategy.
"Luis is a great guy, he understands Aer Lingus and he’ll be as supportive as Willie was.”