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Mannion, from Emirates Airlines, chosen to lead Aer Lingus

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Aer Lingus has been without a boss since Willie Walsh departed in contentious circumstances in January. Walsh was subsequently made CEO-designate of British Airways.
Some people have criticized Aer Lingus for taking so long to choose a successor, but chairman John Sharman insisted that it was important not to rush into a decision. Announcing Mannion’s appointment on Friday, Sharman said, “while some have commented on the length of time it has taken to appoint a chief executive, our objective was always to get the right person in place rather than reacting to external pressures.”
Mannion’s appointment had been widely predicted in recent weeks, and there have been few voices raised in dissent about the choice.
The new CEO’s Irish background is likely to stand him in good stead as he adapts to Aer Lingus’s corporate culture.
He moved from his native county to Dublin to attend university, graduating from Trinity College in 1979 with a degree in business studies. From there, he went on to train as a chartered accountant, qualifying in 1983.
His first connections to the airline industry were established shortly afterward — while working with Ulster Investment Bank he was involved in organizing loans to aviation companies.
Mannion joined Emirates in 1987, working as the airline’s London-based corporate treasurer. He moved to Dubai, along with his wife and two young children, two years later. Among other achievements, he is widely credited for salvaging Sri Lankan Airlines, in which Emirates has a substantial stake, from the brink of bankruptcy.
The Aer Lingus board may also have been impressed by Mannion’s central involvement in the recent expansion of the Emirates fleet. The $20 billion expansion, which included the acquisition of 45 so-called “super jumbos,” was completed just months ago.
Aer Lingus will soon have to make a large investment in its long-haul fleet, and Mannion’s negotiating experience in the area might well prove useful.
Aer Lingus’ need to fund the purchase of new planes is, of course, also among the factors that have led a number of experts to advocate partial or full privatization of the airline. The Irish government’s apparent reluctance to commit itself on this issue is thought to have been one of the reasons why Mannion did not sign on the dotted line for Aer Lingus with greater speed.
Officially, no cabinet decision on privatization has been made. However, Ireland’s minister for transport, Martin Cullen, for the first time stated his preference for privatization last week. Cullen’s speech to the Irish Management Institute annual conference came just two days before Mannion’s appointment was made public.
Cullen said that he thought the government should sell a majority stake in the airline. Asked whether he envisioned a sale of 51 percent or of more than that, the minister replied that he was not “hung up on figures.”
It is thought unlikely that privatization will proceed this year, but early 2006 is regarded as a feasible target date.
Estimates of how much would be raised by selling off Aer Lingus vary wildly — and they are, of course, also related to how big a stake the government decides to make available to private investors.
A 51 percent sale could be expected to net around

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