By Harry Keaney
Ralph Tonseth has Dublin on his radar screen.
The chief executive of San Jose International Airport, in California’s Silicon Valley, recently returned from Ireland, where he had meetings with both Aer Lingus and Irish government officials about establishing a direct air link between the two high-tech heavy cities.
"We have an interest in establishing a direct air link between Dublin and San Jose because of the huge amount of business that Silicon Valley does with Dublin," Tonseth said. "We have been, for the past two years, working with Aer Lingus with the hope of setting up the link."
However, Tonseth said that the "Shannon stopover requirement" is, at present, presenting a problem. Under a current agreement between Ireland and the U.S., known as the bilateral agreement, there must be a stop in Shannon for every non-stop transAtlantic flight from the U.S. to Dublin.
Despite this impediment, Tonseth remains optimistic. "We have great hope that, as it becomes clear there is a market for this, the link can be established," he said.
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He added that San Jose and Dublin have a longstanding sister-city relationship.
Earlier this month, the first Aer Lingus test flight took place between Shannon and Baltimore-Washington. Three weekly non-stop flights from Baltimore-Washington to Shannon and Dublin will start on Sept. 6, with daily service expected to start in May 2001.
Aer Lingus spokesman Peter O’Neill confirmed that discussions have taken place about a possible link with San Jose, but he said they were "in the early stages."
He revealed that officials from San Jose International Airport recently made a presentation to Aer Lingus. He said San Jose hoped to use the Underserved Cities Program, which, for example, allowed Baltimore’s application to bypass the bilateral agreement. Under this program, U.S. airports which can prove to the authorities that they have underutilized international capacity, and a willing carrier to fill it, may also join other airports in flying to Ireland.
It is believed other U.S. airports are also eyeing this as a mechanism to enable them fly to Ireland.
Interest in Aer Lingus’ plans and discussions are now being watched with keen interest because of the company’s expected initial public offering of shares next year. And next month, the airline’s new chief executive, Michael Foley, currently president and CEO of Heineken USA, will take over.