JOE GILL: For Ireland, sky is the limit on long haul flights

QF9 was the call sign used by the Australian airline Qantas earlier this week for the first non-stop flight between Perth and London.

This record-breaking feat is yet another reminder of the fast changing world of air travel, its impact on various economies, and the role Irish executives play in forging ground- breaking achievements.

The chief executive of Qantas is Alan Joyce, a Dublin man who cut his teeth working at Aer Lingus.

He has being aggressively restructuring and changing the strategy at Australia’s flag carrier to better position it for competition with new business models in the airline sector.

As low cost carriers developed in the US and Europe Mr Joyce created one — Jetstar — within Qantas and that helped fend off competitors including Tiger and Virgin Australia.

When the Gulf carriers started growing strongly, and using their Middle Eastern hubs to connect Asia with Europe, they posed a direct threat to Qantas’ services to Europe.

Instead of competing head-on, Mr Joyce developed a strategic relationship with Emirates which helped shape an efficient network of flights including Qantas aircraft routing through Dubai.

QF9 is another sign of how much Qantas is pushing the envelope.

Using all new ultra-long range Boeing 787s, the Australian carrier is flying 17-hour flights that take three hours off the existing routes over the Middle East, Singapore or Hong Kong.

Mr Joyce has also thrown down the gauntlet to both Airbus and Boeing for an aircraft that can fly the even longer Sydney-London route.

Commercial aviation has a unique relationship with Ireland. It was in Foynes that the first commercial transatlantic services were created.

The legendary Pan Am chief executive, Juan Trippe, challenged aircraft manufacturers to produce a plane that could cross the Atlantic safely and reliably. Boeing came up with the answer in the 314 Flying Boat.

When Mr Trippe raised the bar further, Boeing and Douglas brought forward the jet engined DC-8 and B707.

Mr Trippe was also instrumental to introducing the ‘jumbo’ Boeing 747 in the late 1960s, and Aer Lingus was an early adopter of that aircraft.

The aviation industry needs pioneering airline executives to hustle and push the manufacturers towards technological breakthroughs that make commercial sense. Mr Joyce, and others, are doing just that.

For Ireland these new services, and the aircraft attached to them, offer enormous potential.

Effectively, Boeing and Airbus are designing planes that can operate long haul services for relatively small numbers of passengers.

The advanced efficiency of aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, are opening up very long haul routes that can connect populations smaller than those needed in prior decades.

Boeing MAX and Airbus NEO jets are doing the same for even smaller markets.

This equipment is already opening up new markets for Ireland. The Boeing 787, for example, will operate the new Beijing-Dublin flight while Ethiopian Airlines is using a 787 on its Addis Ababa– Dublin–Los Angeles run.

Norwegian uses the MAX to link Cork, Shannon, and Dublin, with the US east coast, while Aer Lingus has big plans to operate Airbus NEO jets to a variety of North American destinations.

The greatest failure — by both the airline and aircraft industries — has been to develop safe, energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly supersonic services on long haul routes.

My grandfather could have flown across the Atlantic in three hours with Concorde in the early 1970s compared to an eight-hour hop now.

With interim advances in engine and wing design, it is remarkable that a new generation of supersonic long-haul commercial jets have not been developed.

Perhaps it will take some leadership from an Irish man or woman to pioneer that quest and follow on the tradition of ground breaking aviation feats like QF9.

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


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