Irish vision for piloting air travel's next leap forward

Last week two Irishmen, who are leaders in the world of aviation, made decisions that will have profound consequences for air travel worldwide.

Irish vision for piloting air travel's next leap forward

Last week two Irishmen, who are leaders in the world of aviation, made decisions that will have profound consequences for air travel worldwide.

Their actions will influence the type of aircraft manufactured for decades to come.

Alan Joyce is chief executive of Australia’s national carrier Qantas and learned his trade growing up in Dublin while working for Aer Lingus.

He has been central to a challenge laid down before global aircraft manufacturers titled Project Sunrise. That is a demand for an aircraft capable of carrying passengers non-stop from Sydney to both London and New York.

These mammoth routes require advances in aircraft design. Both Airbus, with a variant of its A350, and Boeing with the 777X have stepped up to deliver solutions.

Mr Joyce has indicated both proposals are close to meeting his objective and his airline will decide on one over the next year.

These aircraft will met the needs of Qantas but will also provide solutions for a myriad of ultra long distance non-stop markets across the world.

Alongside that process, Mr Joyce also announced at the Paris Air Show that his low-cost airline Jetstar will acquire 36 Airbus A321XLR aircraft.

These machines, similar to those used by Aer Lingus in short haul markets, but equipped with powerful engines and additional tanker capacity, extend significantly the range of the single aisle aircraft.

By being a launch customer for the XLR, Jetstar is helping commercialise this new jet. It has a range of 8,700 kilometers which allows it, for example, to fly point-to-point between Dublin and Miami.

That programme is further helped by a decision from IAG, the owner of Aer Lingus, to also order 14 A321XLRs in Paris.

Six of these will be deployed at Aer Lingus and probably will be used to bring new long-haul markets to Ireland that cannot be justified by using larger wide body A330 aircraft.

Moreover, the XLR could also open up direct US options from smaller airports like Cork because they can operate from shorter runways.

However, these purchase decisions were eclipsed for drama by another announcement from the CEO of IAG Willie Walsh.

While the Paris Air Show was expected to be a dominant procession by Airbus - given the deep troubles afflicting Boeing with its 737 Max airplane - the outcome was somewhat different.

In a huge surprise for all attending, IAG signed a letter of intent for up to 200 Max aircraft despite they being grounded currently.

This is an incalculable boost for Boeing while it works to have its key short-haul aircraft brought back to service.

An endorsement from a carrier of the calibre of IAG shows great confidence in the aircraft snd the solution developed to fix the problems that caused two tragedies.

For IAG, too, it is a radical move because the short-haul fleets across its constituent airlines - British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Vueling and LEVEL - are almost all Airbus aircraft.

The Max order turns that profile on its head.

It will, undoubtedly, be made easier by the price discount that such an order made possible while Boeing struggled to find a new contract from any material purchaser for Max.

This set of decisions underlines the high stakes that these aviation entrepreneurs are willing to take on. The combined value of the orders outlined is in excess of $30 billion in sticker prices.

They all carry commercial and financial risk.

For those of the next generation who aspire to replicate the success that has marked Irish aviation over the last 30 years, and keep Ireland at the forefront of the commercial aviation industry, they should study the rationale and processes used by Mr Joyce and Mr Walsh closely.

It requires a mix of vision, leadership and bottle to achieve breakthroughs like this.

It is encouraging to see that Irish executives are at the front of this bus in the context of global commercial aviation.

Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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