Aer Lingus continues trans-Atlantic expansion and adds Philadelphia to its Dublin departure board

Irish carrier Aer Lingus is delivering on its promise to further build connectivity between Europe and North America with the announcement of a record trans-Atlantic network for summer 2018, including a brand new route to Philadelphia. The growth is built on the back of an investment from parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) in new aircraft: four new long haul aircraft have already enabled new routes to Hartford, Los Angeles, Miami and Newark over the past 24 months.

The new year-round Dublin – Philadelphia service will take-off from 25-Mar-2018 initially on a four times weekly basis flown using a 177-seat Boeing 757 of ASL Airlines Ireland. The plan is to grow the route to a daily schedule from 2019, subject to its business performance. The city pair is already served on an up to daily basis by US major American Airlines using an Airbus A330-200 after it inherited the route as part of its merger with US Airways.

Alongside this new market, frequency and capacity growth will see an 177,000 additional seats across the Atlantic next summer, the airline’s largest ever long haul programme with 2.75 million seats. Additional transatlantic expansion includes a daily service to both San Francisco and Los Angeles on the US West Coast as well as twice daily flights to Chicago.

Elsewhere Miami, which was launched as a new route in late summer 2017 and subsequently as a new winter route, will continue into next summer operating three times per week. Miami combined with Orlando, operating four times weekly, will offer a direct connection from Florida to Ireland every day for summer 2018. Washington DC will continue to operate daily for summer but on a larger Airbus A330-300 series aircraft, for four out of seven days, providing 31% additional seats on the route.

CHART – Aer Lingus has significantly grown its activities between the Republic of Ireland and USA since 2012 with two-way capacity up a fifth in 2017Source: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

The Blue Swan Daily spoke to aviation analyst John Grant, director of JG Aviation Consultants and partner in MIDAS Aviation, to get his views on the Philadelphia route announcement. He says the selection of Philadelphia as Aer Lingus’ latest trans-Atlantic market comes a little as a surprise, but acknowledges there must be a bit more to the selection than immediately meets the eye.

“At first glance you must wonder if alliance partners ever speak to each other! Collectively American Airlines and British Airways had an 85% share of bookings made in 2016 so there wasn’t much leakage to other alliances. So why add more service? You would imagine there are some heads shaking in Dallas,” he explains.

Whilst Dublin is the fifth largest O&D market from Philadelphia in Europe, a market of an estimated 39,000 bookings in 2016, it “is hardly screaming for more service,” according to the analyst, especially when the current competitor (or partner) American Airlines will depart just ten minutes before the Aer Lingus service. “There must be a bit more to this than immediately meets the eye,” claims Mr Grant.

However, the natural geographic advantage of Dublin is obvious, says the aviation consultant, with the US pre-clearance facility well regarded and a positive product advantage that all trans-Atlantic carriers enjoy. The market is well used to Boeing 757 trans-Atlantic operations, he adds, with some 7% of Aer Lingus’ frequency operated by the aircraft type, a model he describes as an ideal “market tester” for such routes.

The European network of Aer Lingus will also provide a level of connectivity with more than 20 European market connections, including to many of the larger unserved markets from Philadelphia such as Milan, Berlin and Copenhagen. These will support the local traffic on the route as well as possible feed from American Airlines at the other end of the route.

Mr Grant describes the growth as “a cautious development for the airline” and believes it still leaves open many further unserved market opportunities across the United States of America (USA) that must be attracting the interest of the Dublin Airport air service development team.

“Seattle is unserved with a market of some 27,000 bookings last year; home to Amazon, Facebook and other hi-tech companies and must be worth investing in a Starbucks coffee with Delta Air Lines who have a decent hub operation in place. Denver with some 24,000 bookings must also be getting close to consideration if only on a seasonal basis for United Airlines and the twin cities of Minneapolis/ St Paul must be worth a shopping expedition this side of Xmas,” he explains.

CHART – Dublin Airport has overtaken Madrid, Munich, Rome and Zurich since the start of the decade to offer the fifth largest capacity offering between Europe and USASource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

Aer Lingus has played a key role in Dublin Airport’s long haul network growth and since 2011 it has added seven new US destinations from Dublin Airport and helped boost the airport’s traffic in and out of the US market. In fact Dublin Airport’s transatlantic traffic has increased by 67% in the past five years alone and the facility is now the fifth largest airport in Europe for North American connectivity after London Heathrow, Paris CDG, Frankfurt and Amsterdam Schiphol.

The Irish carrier will become the sixth foreign flag airline at Philadelphia International Airport and the second to arrive in the city in the past year after Icelandair began service to and from its Keflavik International Airport hub, serving Reykjavik in May-2017.

CHART – The trans-Atlantic market dominates the international activities at Philadelphia International Airport based on departures for week commencing 02-Oct-2017Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

American Airlines is currently boosting its operation from the city having initially reduced its offering post the US Airways merger. New domestic flights to the largest current unserved markets from Philadelphia (San Antonio from 15-Feb-2018, followed by service to Des Moines, Iowa; Madison, Wis.; and Omaha, Neb., from 04-May-2018) will build regional connectivity, while the deployment of an A330-200 on one of its daily flights to Los Angeles from 25-Mar-2018 will provide better access to trans-Atlantic services. Additional long haul flights to Budapest and Prague have also been confirmed for summer 2018.

As per Aer Lingus’ arrival, Mr Grant believes the airline “may be taking a bit of a liberty in some quarters with this new route and it may get some alarm bells ringing elsewhere”. But then Liberty, Bells and Philadelphia probably does all make some sense after all.