Aer Lingus receives ‘stronger than anticipated’ response to network RFP as it closes in on final A321neoLR route plans ahead of type’s 2019 debut

Aer Lingus is in the final stages of a network evaluation that will see it further expand its presence in the trans-Atlantic market from 2019 and could also see it expand its activities outside of the European and North American markets that have been its main focus. This latest growth will be facilitated by the arrival of eight of the new long-range versions of the Airbus A321neoLR, a single-aisle aircraft that will easily be able to fly from Dublin to markets across the east coast of the United States of America (USA) and complement the larger A330 widebodies in its long-haul fleet.


Summary:

  • Aer Lingus is in the final stages of a network evaluation that will see it further expand its presence in the trans-Atlantic market as it debuts its new Airbus A321neoLR fleet;
  • The Irish flag carrier released an RFP to to US and Canadian airports seeking commercial support for potential summer 2019 network development opportunities, mainly using the new A321neoLR;
  • Willie Walsh, CEO of parent IAG, says Aer Lingus has received a “stronger than anticipated response” to the RFP, which will also deliver widebody growth options;
  • The Irishman describes the A321neoLR as a “gamechanger for Aer Lingus” and “the perfect aircraft for an airline based in Ireland with a very strong presence in the US”.

As a strong player within the International Airlines Group (IAG), alongside British Airways, Iberia and low-cost carriers Vueling and recent arrival LEVEL, Aer Lingus has built up a strong presence across the North Atlantic, taking advantage of the geographical position of its Dublin Airport hub to feed traffic into the trans-Atlantic market from the UK and also across Continental Europe. Its network from Dublin now encompasses 12 markets across the US, comprising. This is also supplemented by flights from Shannon, in the south of Ireland to Boston and New York.

Aer Lingus has been growing its long-haul operation across the Atlantic under the guidance of parent company IAG. Alongside long running flights from Dublin to Boston, Chicago, New York and Orlando, new links have been added to San Francisco and Toronto in 2014; Washington in 2015; Hartford, Los Angeles and Newark in 2016; Miami in 2017 and Philadelphia and Seattle this year. The busier and long-standing markets are being flown using A330s, while the likes of Hartford, Philadelphia and Washington are flown using leased Boeing 757-200s as well as both of Shannon’s long-haul markets – Boston and New York.

CHART – Aer Lingus has helped turn Dublin Airport into one of Europe’s largest trans-Atlantic hubs with its network growth and which sees it now offer over one million annual seats to North America from the Irish capitalSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

Over the space of the last five years Aer Lingus has almost doubled its North American capacity from Dublin with levels actually almost trebling since the start of the decade, albeit the 2010 figure represented the bottom of the market after capacity cuts at the end of the 2000s, post the 2008 Irish banking crisis and economic depression of 2009. After small rises in 2011 and 2012, the market has seen double-digit annual growth in each of the following five years, peaking at +24.2% in 2017. It is forecast to grow at +15.3% in 2018, based on published schedules.

Further growth in this market is certain for 2019 as the first of the A321neoLRs it is leasing from Air Lease Corporation (ALC) arrive. While the aircraft will enable it to replace the 757-200s that it currently wet-leases from ASL Airlines, Aer Lingus has a number of options for the aircraft from introducing brand new transatlantic city pairs to delivering frequency growth in existing markets, either independently or alongside larger A330 widebodied jets.

Earlier this year the airline outlined its growth intentions for the aircraft by releasing an RFP to US and Canadian airports seeking commercial support for potential summer 2019 network development opportunities using the new single-aisle airliners as well as its A330 fleet. The process was open to both airports not yet served by Aer Lingus for new route opportunities and those already served for increased capacity or frequencies.

“The A321neoLR gives us options on the east coast and gives us options to increase frequency to a number of the destinations we are already serving. This is going to be a gamechanger for Aer Lingus. It’s the perfect aircraft for an airline based in Ireland with a very strong presence in the US.
Willie Walsh, CEO, IAG

Speaking to The Blue Swan Daily at the recent CAPA – Centre for Aviation Airline Leader Summit in Dublin, Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG, confirmed that Aer Lingus received a “stronger than anticipated response” to the RFP and is in the final stages of its evaluation.

“The A321neoLR gives us options on the east coast and gives us options to increase frequency to a number of the destinations we are already serving. This is going to be a gamechanger for Aer Lingus. It’s the perfect aircraft for an airline based in Ireland with a very strong presence in the US,” he said.

In terms of the RFP he explained that the airline “had a very, very strong response … It’s been fantastic actually and surprised us,” with responses including “a number of airports that we hadn’t really thought of ourselves.” Alongside deployment opportunities for the new A321neoLR, these also include new opportunities for the A330. “Actually some of them won’t really be suitable for the A321, but we have options with the A330s and as you know we are looking at further widebody aircraft for Aer Lingus”.

“We think there is more opportunity there than we had identified … But for us it is not just about the airports … It’s about engaging with the business communities around those airports because it is critical that we have not just support from the airport , but also the business and communtities around them. That has been very encouraging,” he added.

Mr Walsh said that Aer Lingus will be making its network announcements “in the months to come,” but this growth may not be limited just to the existing geographical markets that it currently serves and Mr Walsh suggested during a panel discussion at the CAPA Airline Leader Summit that future expansion could see growth into new regions.

He confirmed to The Blue Swan Daily that the airline has the “ambition to grow beyond the traditional European and North America markets,” noting that Aer Lingus previously flew to Dubai, a market he described as seeing “a strong customer demand” but which was “not a financial success” as “having a relationship with a hub carrier was important” for beyond traffic. Growing links between IAG and Qatar Airways may make Doha a suitable alternative, but Mr Walsh sees an opportunity to perhaps fly direct into Asia as growing trade between Ireland and Asia “will justify Aer Lingus flying to some destinations in Asia”.

Find out more insights from IAG CEO Willie Walsh in this CAPA TV interview from the CAPA Airline Leader Summit, where he provides an update on Brexit and the third runway debate at London Heathrow, while revealing the thinking behind its acquisition of a small shareholding in LCC Norwegian and subsequent takeover offers. He looks at the year ahead, highlights the value of the Hangar 51 accelerator programme and talks about the performance of Aer Lingus and the airline group’s optimistic outlook for 2018 and beyond.