Aer Lingus braces itself for even more competition
Aer Lingus looks set to face even more competition on its booming transatlantic routes in 2018 with its US partner JetBlue mulling an entry into the lucrative market.
This year has proven to be a landmark one for IAG-owned Aer Lingus's ambitions to build a major hub at Dublin Airport for traffic between Europe and America.
There are further developments promised in 2018.
Aer Lingus saw transatlantic traffic jump past 2.5 million passengers last year and launched or announced numerous routes to the US from Ireland, including to Seattle and Philadelphia.
Irish-based low cost operator Norwegian - which flies to secondary airports serving New York and Boston from Belfast International - has emerged as the key competitor to Aer Lingus in the budget end of the transatlantic market.
Another Scandinavian player, Denmark's Primera Air, is set to start offering low-cost seats from London Stansted and Birmingham to New York, Boston and Toronto in the spring.
A growing proportion of Aer Lingus passengers on North Atlantic routes originate from UK regional cities so the new Danish entrant will increase competition for the former national carrier.
But the arrival of JetBlue into Ireland or the UK could prove to be an even bigger disruption in a market that Aer Lingus has done much to develop.
Management at the Nasdaq-listed American carrier - which has made a huge success of its high-end coast-to-coast Mint service in the States - is reported to be close to concluding a comprehensive fleet review to examine the airline's orders and deliveries from Airbus.
One of the options on the table is the possibility that some orders will be upgraded to the new Airbus A321LR aircraft, it is believed.
Aer Lingus has already ordered eight of the innovative low-cost, long-range aircraft, and plans to use them to further expand its network right across the eastern United States.
If JetBlue, which is a close partner of Aer Lingus in the US, does decide to opt for the same aircraft, it is likely to focus on serving numerous cities in Western Europe from its hubs in Boston and New York, according to reports in the US.