Aer Lingus has backed claims that more than 500 jobs would be created on new transatlantic routes if a €1 billion bid for the carrier goes through.
Stephen Kavanagh, due to take over as Aer Lingus chief executive early next month, said there would be limited redundancies if the offer by the International Airlines Group – owner of British Airways and Iberia – gets clearance.
The new Aer Lingus boss refused to detail potential job cuts but suggested a deal with a new owner would see redeployment and new opportunities for existing staff.
“The opportunity that the IAG proposal brings is accelerated growth, but also sustainable growth,” Mr Kavanagh said.
The incoming chief executive said the prospect of a deal to grow Aer Lingus on global markets with the support of an international airline business like IAG may never come about again.
No timetable has been set for the Irish Government to decide on whether to sell its 25.1% stake in Aer Lingus.
The offer – at €2.55 euro a share – is facing stiff opposition from backbenchers and the opposition over fears of the impact on regional airports in Ireland such as Shannon and Cork and after a five year guarantee to retain valuable London-Heathrow slots, tabled as part of the IAG bid, expires.
Mr Kavanagh told a parliamentary hearing in Dublin that job creation would be direct airline staff but also in spin-offs including at airports, support services, hotels and other areas.
Chairman Colm Barrington said a successful takeover by IAG would accelerate plans to add two new US destinations to the Irish airline’s schedules, one a city on the east coast and one on the west.
He said it would add 200 jobs immediately while growth over the next five years could add more than 500 jobs and possibly outdo projections outlined by IAG chief executive Willie Walsh.
“I think we can do a little better than that,” the chairman said.
“We don’t have to agree with him (Mr Walsh) on everything – he doesn’t own us yet.”
The chairman added: “I think we could grow our current long haul, transatlantic fleet from its current 10, close to 20 – that could be more than 500 jobs if we reach those targets.”
Mr Barrington said he was surprised the IAG offer was being represented as anything other than positive.
And he dismissed out of hand trade union claims that 1,200 jobs could be lost in Aer Lingus if the takeover bid was successful.
“Somebody gave that out without any foundation, any basis or background whatsoever – there’s no basis for it,” Mr Barrington said.
“We can grow this company slowly, we can grow tourism slowly, or we can grow it exponentially.
“Employment will grow significantly.”
Stobart Air, which operates Aer Lingus Regional services, also back the IAG bid.
Mr Walsh last week said about 500 jobs could be created in Aer Lingus – new pilots, cabin crew, engineers and mechanics – if the ambitious takeover is agreed and long haul planes are added to the fleet over the next five years.
He would not be drawn on a figure for potential redundancies.
The proposal from IAG includes guarantees to keep the Aer Lingus brand, the head office in Dublin and that the Irish airline’s 23 landing slots at London-Heathrow would remain connected to Dublin, Shannon and Cork for five years.
Mr Walsh also promoted the prospect of IAG developing Dublin Airport as a transatlantic transport hub taking advantage of US immigration pre-clearance, Aer Lingus presence in North America, particularly the east coast, and connections with American Airlines.
Mr Kavanagh touched on the concept during hours of questioning at the parliamentary hearing.
The incoming Aer Lingus chief, who has 26 years service at the airline, drew comparisons with air services in Dubai which have gone global.
“That investment has recognised the geographic advantage of Dubai,” he said.
“I’m not by any means saying that we are going to achieve that level of scale but that’s the ambition that we share.”