Aer Lingus struggles to solve freight fiasco

FREIGHT companies have had to resort to sending staff on flights with urgent packages since the company handling Aer Lingus cargo in Heathrow folded last week.

Since SwissPort closed down last Monday, Aer Lingus cannot deal with any Heathrow-bound cargo and is struggling to come up with an interim measure to resolve the problem.

The loss of the cargo service means the cost of exporting urgent service parts has increased more than 10-fold, giving multi-nationals a taste of what will come in January when Aer Lingus drops its cargo services completely.

The move, which comes as the Cabinet sub-Committee on Aer Lingus met for the first time yesterday, was greeted with dismay by exporters who accused the Government of not understanding the needs of multi-nationals.

John Whelan of the Irish Exporters’ Association said the Government had demonstrated a clear lack of any understanding of the export needs of Irish and multi-national companies.

“The Government doesn’t seem to understand that we have a major problem here.

“There is a high cost to the measures these companies have had to resort to. It is a huge cost burden and it is not something they are comfortable with in the long term,” Mr Whelan said.

John Greene of Diamond Freight Services in Cork Airport said he had already been forced to send staff as passengers carrying urgent packages in order to have vital spare parts delivered for clients abroad.

The emergency measure costs more than 10 times the normal cost of sending the same item as freight, provided a seat is available at short notice.

Mr Greene said some of his clients would have to reconsider their Irish logistics operations unless an alternative means of sending spare parts was found.

“The decision to stop the cargo service really needs to be looked at. A company could be looking at a closed production line abroad and they need to get that part urgently,” he said.

Although they had not been authorised to speak by their companies, two logistics managers in large multi-nationals in the Munster region said the abolition of cargo services would cause them untold problems and might lead to job losses as some emergency operations are moved elsewhere.

Dublin companies are not as badly affected, as other airlines offer services.

Cork TD Kathleen Lynch said the matter raised further questions about the wisdom of privatising Aer Lingus.

“As a national airline in public ownership, there should be an obligation on Aer Lingus management to have regard for the broader national interest. Certainly, both the company and the Government should take note of the warning from the Irish Exporters’ Association that if distribution out of Ireland becomes difficult, companies will move to Holland, France or Germany,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet sub-Committee on Aer Lingus emerged from its first meeting yesterday saying a final decision on how investment in the airline would be funded would be made in the coming weeks.

After the meeting, Transport Minister Martin Cullen said the discussions had been very good. He played down any rift between the Government parties.

“We need to hone in on some options now and we are going to meet very shortly to do that,” he said, promising a final decision by Christmas.

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