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British Airways could bolster the fleet with Bombardier's CSeries

By John Mulgrew

Published 10/02/2016

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh in conversation with broadcaster Gerry Kelly at the PKF-FPM Annual Leadership Talk in association with Ulster University Business School
IAG chief executive Willie Walsh in conversation with broadcaster Gerry Kelly at the PKF-FPM Annual Leadership Talk in association with Ulster University Business School
Belfast Telegraph Business Awards 2013 in association with British Airways at the Culloden Hotel, Belfast.

British Airways boss Willie Walsh says he will "definitely" consider buying Bombardier's long-delayed CSeries jets.

The chief of BA's parent group IAG told the Belfast Telegraph he could bring more routes to Northern Ireland, and potentially new brands, such as Spain's flagship carrier Iberia.

"We are interested that the Government is talking about a route incentive scheme," he said. "If an airline can get some financial incentive to operate a new route, it makes it easier.

"It's probably going to come with Iberia Express... it could be an option."

Asked whether Bombardier's new CSeries jets could be on the table for his multi-billion pound IAG, Mr Walsh replied: "We will definitely look at it, and we have looked at it.

"We gave it serious consideration a couple of years ago. What went against it was its time of entry into service.

"The CS300, which is the aircraft we would have looked at, was coming on stream too late.

"I've seen the aircraft and I've flown the simulator personally. The CS100 could be an option for us at London City Airport."

The 54-year-old Dublin-born airline group boss and former long-serving pilot was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after a talk at the Ulster University's Business School.

And speaking about IAG low-cost brand Vueling, which pulled out of Belfast City Airport after less than a year, he said: "The model that Vueling has... they try a market (and) if the route doesn't work, they try somewhere else. It doesn't mean they don't come back."

He also said IAG was "always looking at opportunities", adding: "We are not afraid if there is the right opportunity there."

Mr Walsh said he would only back a third runway at Heathrow "if the price is right".

And asked about fresh competition from rival Ryanair, which is now back in Belfast, he replied: "There's always concern when you are competing with Ryanair.

"But we compete with them a lot... we are well used to it. There's never friendly competition with Ryanair - it's brutal."

He also reiterated calls to scrap the "ridiculous" air passenger duty, a tax levied on short-haul flights from the UK which has been abolished in the Republic. "Just scrap it," Mr Walsh added. "I'm not one of these people who says reduce it. It distorts competition."

Mr Walsh also was not shy about his dislike of fellow airline boss Richard Branson, whom he had "no admiration" for. "I don't buy all the b******t about him," he said.

In 2012, Mr Walsh wagered a "knee in the groin" in a bet with Sir Richard over the future of his Virgin brand.

But he does admire staunch rival Michael O'Leary, despite the competition.

And the IAG chief executive also described Belfast as a "transformed" city.

Willie Walsh spent 18 years as a pilot with Aer Lingus, before joining the management ranks and becoming chief executive in 2002, and later going on to head up British Airways.

Belfast Telegraph

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