New Airbus from Cork could open doors to east coast of US for Aer Lingus
Aer Lingus is eyeing flights between Cork and the US in a move that would put it in direct competition with Norwegian, which hopes to start such services this summer.
Willie Walsh, the chief executive of Aer Lingus owner IAG, said the airline group is examining a possible purchase of a new single-aisle aircraft type that would be able to reach the east coast of the US from Cork.
"A transatlantic service from Cork becomes an opportunity," Mr Walsh said. "We looked at it when I was at Aer Lingus, and I'm sure that it's something we will look at again. It's much more sensible and viable from an economic point of view with a smaller-gauge aircraft."
Mr Walsh started his career with Aer Lingus as a pilot, and later became its chief executive.
Such an additional service - which could still be three years away - would be another transformational development for Cork, but could spell trouble for Shannon if more passengers are lured away from the west coast airport.
Mr Walsh said that IAG, which acquired Aer Lingus last year for €1.36bn (£1bn) and which also owns British Airways, Iberia and Vueling, is considering buying the Airbus A321LR, which could accommodate about 206 passengers.
First deliveries of the aircraft to airline customers are due in 2019.
"We think that aircraft could be a very effective aircraft on the Aer Lingus transatlantic network and open up some new opportunities," Mr Walsh revealed.
He said Aer Lingus, which is headed by chief executive Stephen Kavanagh, could use the new aircraft to operate routes where there is not sufficient passenger demand to justify using a larger aircraft.
Norwegian Air International also intends to use smaller aircraft to fly between Cork and the US.
Mr Walsh said Aer Lingus could target more secondary destinations in the United States using the new Airbus.
Aer Lingus already leases a 177-seater Boeing 757 aircraft to operate some services between Ireland and the US. Mr Walsh said the new Airbus could replace those jets in a few years.