Aer Lingus flying high with lie-flat seats from Ulster firm
Aer Lingus is raising the bar for its business passengers with a £10m investment to introduce lie-flat seats manufactured by a Northern Ireland company.
The airline yesterday unveiled the best-in-airline seating ahead of its annual board meeting in Belfast today – the first time is has been held in the city.
The Irish airline is also celebrating seven years of flying from Northern Ireland.
Chief revenue officer Mike Rutter, who demonstrated the new seats, said the company had made a conscious to decision to hold the board meeting here.
He added: "We wanted to come to Belfast to share the direction of the business with the community, and I believe the symbolism of doing that shows our commitment to the Belfast marketplace."
Mr Rutter also told how the firm's presence at George Best Belfast City airport was "strong, profitable and sustainable" and set for further growth.
The carrier recently added three new aircraft to expand its Belfast-to-Gatwick route capacity by 20% – totalling some 28,000 seats – this winter.
Mr Rutter said the airline would introduce further destinations from the city in the future, at a rate of around one a year.
But he also revealed transatlantic routes from Belfast were out of the question because Dublin was only two hours away.
"If you have two major hubs within two hours of each other, they (routes) are not sustainable," he said, adding that this was the accepted model across the world.
The business class lie-flat seats are expected to be installed across the fleet by mid-March. They were manufactured by Thompson Aero Seating in Portadown in an £8.2m deal that created 100 jobs for the Armagh company.
The seats, which are becoming a business class standard globally, are equipped with internet sockets and USB ports, extra storage, movies and music, airbags to adjust firmness and they even boast a massage tool.
Some of Ireland's best restaurants will provide the in-flight food, with the chefs from here who have been invited to contribute signature dishes to be unveiled next month.
The project comes amid a period of profitability and growth for the airline, as reflected by its best half-year results since 2010, which showed revenue growth of 6% despite the disruption of industrial action, plus expected year-end profits of £47.5m.