Willie Walsh, CEO, IAG pictured at Dromoland Castle Hotel with Shannon Chamber CEO Helen Downes, Sean Flannery, general manager GECAS and executive vice president, technical and engine leasing for GECAS and Julie Dickerson, president, Shannon Chamber. Photo: Eamon Ward.
While there may be bigger opportunities in continental Europe for International Airlines Group’s stable of airline brands, IAG, through Aer Lingus, will look at opportunities for Shannon. This was one of the points made by IAG CEO Willie Walsh when he addressed an audience of almost 300 business executives at Shannon Chamber’s president’s lunch in Dromoland Castle Hotel last Friday.
The event was sponsored by aircraft leasing company, GECAS, and supported by leading aviation companies such as Eirtech Aviation, IAC, Atlantic Aviation Group, Lufthansa Technik, Shannon Airport and the local council, Clare County Council.
Outlining how IAG has grown since it was founded in 2011, following the merger of British Airways and Iberia, and through the acquisition of Vueling (2012) and Aer Lingus (2015) and the launch of two low-cost airlines, Iberia Express and a long-haul, low-cost airline, Level, in June 2017, operating profits in 2016 were €2.5 billion and are on target to reach €3billion in 2017. The airline group now carries 101m passengers, has 548 aircraft and employs 63,000 people.
Describing Aer Lingus as the “trophy asset”, Walsh said that IAG’s rationale for purchasing the airline was the opportunity offered by its transatlantic network, the benefits from Ireland’s geographic position, both for Shannon and Dublin, and pre-clearance, which, he said, is the envy of a lot of airports around the world.
Recalling the process of buying Aer Lingus as tortuous, he said his colleagues in London were “bemused by the questions and challenges being levelled against us.
“We bought it because we wanted to grow it and have exceeded all the commitments we gave,” he stated.
“We have added 6 new transatlantic destinations, most recently a new Dublin to Seattle service, expanded the number of aircraft in the fleet, and have ordered 8 new 180-seater Airbus A321LR aircraft for delivery in 2018 to expand our transatlantic network. We are fully committed to exploiting the opportunities we saw when we purchased Aer Lingus.”
Commenting on the new low-cost airline, Level, Walsh described this as a model that could offer potential for Ireland and could sit side-by-side and grow with Aer Lingus.
“Having sold 50,000 seats in the first 48 hours proves that you can stimulate demand to a new customer segment and that this is a model that can work.”
The next phase of Level’s expansion will be announced this week.
Commenting on Brexit, he added: “I don’t see it impacting on us in the medium to long-term as we believe people will continue to fly. There will be a comprehensive Air Transport Agreement between the EU and the UK and this agreement will be good for all parties. It would be a retrograde step if the EU was not to reach an agreement with the UK.
“There will be challenges as anything that impacts negatively on the UK economy will impact negatively on Ireland’s economy. Nevertheless, I am quite pessimistic about the economics of the UK and Europe and that we will overcome and get back to a normal trading relationship over time,” he added.
Welcoming Mr Walsh to Dromoland, Shannon Chamber president Julie Dickerson did question why Aer Lingus would extend its main hub in Dublin, creating additional congestion at the airport and the M50 motorway, when Shannon and Cork have underutilised capacity and the infrastructure, Mr Walsh pointed out that Aer Lingus would not have been able to introduce the new Seattle to Dublin route if it didn’t have customers flying from Europe and the UK into Dunlin to connect.
“There is no way there would be sufficient demand in the local market to sustain a route to US destinations like Seattle, Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or San Francisco. But, Shannon can support a viable network of flights and Aer Lingus will look at opportunities for Shannon,” he concluded.
Willie Walsh, CEO, IAG pictured at Dromoland Castle Hotel with Shannon Chamber president Julie Dickerson, CEO Helen Downes, Sean Flannery, general manager GECAS and executive vice president, technical and engine leasing for GECAS and representatives from the Chamber members and Clare County Council. Photo: Eamon Ward.