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Aer Lingus links up with the big boys

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Aer Lingus was made a new member of the gang last week. You could call them the Jets, although this was more of an East Side story on the day.

The Irish carrier’s CEO, Garry Cullen, beamed from the podium as his company was formally inducted into the oneworld alliance, a formidable coterie of international airlines including two of the biggest names in global aviation, American Airlines and British Airways.

The press conference, at a hotel just east of Park Avenue in Manhattan, was an opportunity for the other airline bosses to welcome Cullen to the board of the oneworld club.

The high flyers included Don Carty, CEO of American, and his British Airways equivalent, Bob Ayling. Other airlines represented at the gathering were Qantas, Iberia, Finnair, Cathay Pacific, Canadian Airlines and LanChile, like Aer Lingus, a newly fledged member.

Cullen described the day as being a very significant one for Aer Lingus. "We are delighted to be accepted as part of the oneworld team," he said.

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Cullen’s delight was doubtless accompanied by some degree of relief. Only a few years ago, Aer Lingus was almost forced off the transAtlantic routes due to heavy losses. Now, with American Airlines as a partner in North America, the prospects for continued growth on the Atlantic seem assured.

Cullen was questioned by reporters regarding the likely flotation of Aer Lingus and speculation that both American and British Airways would take a 10 percent stake in the Irish carrier.

Cullen replied by saying that the privatization status of Aer Lingus was still unknown and that he hoped to know the intent of the Irish government — which owns 95 percent of Aer Lingus — in a couple of months.

The oneworld partnership agreement, he stressed, did not include an equity stake for American and British in the Irish airline.

American’s Don Carty, who was quick to remind the assembled press that he was Irish American, said that the inclusion of Aer Lingus in oneworld would make the alliance bigger and stronger. Oneworld, he said, could now fly the Irish business traveler around the world.

Bob Ayling of British Airways, clearly conscious of events unfolding roughly 3,000 air miles to the east, said that there couldn’t be a better symbol for changing political times in the islands off northwest Europe than Aer Lingus and British Airways working together.

Aer Lingus, meanwhile, will be a minnow among the oneworld sharks. With a fleet of 38 aircraft, the Irish carrier bears greatest fleet-size resemblance to LanChile, which has 47 planes. After that the numbers shoot up. Finnair has 58 aircraft, Cathay Pacific 62. Canadian Airlines has 131, Qantas 135 and Iberia 215. The biggest of the pack are British, with a fleet of 340 aircraft, and American, with a whopping 933.

Being so relatively small, Aer Lingus seems ripe for at least a partial takeover next year. But last Thursday in New York, just being welcomed aboard by some of the airline’s industry’s elite was just the ticket for the time being.

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