UPDATED: Aer Lingus begins operations from Belfast but have dropped Irish language greeting
Cead mile failte Kate!
Kate Hoey flew back to her native Belfast for this week's Let's Talk
The December edition of Let's Talk was dominated by the politics of sport and Irish language. Stephen Walker watched the last programme of 2007 unfold.
As Labour MP Kate Hoey flew into Belfast to take part in the Let's Talk programme she could have done some research on the plane.
Little did she know that the flying habits of one of the city's newest arrivals would be up for discussion later that day.
Aer Lingus, the latest airline to set up shop in Northern Ireland, has decided to drop the Irish language greeting to passengers on their Belfast flights.
The news hasn't phased the County Antrim born politician.
"I really couldn't care less," she told the audience. Later adding, "as long as they speak English".
Kate Hoey's indifference wasn't shared by her fellow panellist.
Barbre De Brun, now an MEP, but once a member of the assembly, drew on her previous job.
"If I can get up at Stormont as the Minister for Health and speak in Irish why can't you give an announcement on a plane," she said.
To George Hook, talk show host and seasoned traveller, the Aer Lingus decision simply didn't make sense.
Hook declared: "This is unadulterated claptrap."
The new Aer Lingus service from Belfast International Airport at Aldergrove began this morning with flights to Amsterdam and Barcelona.
It is the airline's first ever base outside the Republic and by next February the company plans to be flying to nine European destinations.
Aer Lingus caused controversy in the west of Ireland when it announced the ending of its Shannon-London service and transferred the slots to Belfast.
Three aircraft will be based at Belfast International at Aldergrove, primarily serving two of Europe's biggest airline hubs: London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol.
There will also be services to other European destinations including Rome, Barcelona and Geneva. The company is investing €150m in the move to Belfast and is creating over 150 new jobs.
It has already sold more than 50,000 tickets on the Belfast routes and plans to carry at least 500,000 passengers from Aldergrove in the first year of operations.
Aer Lingus Chief Executive, Dermot Mannion, said: 'This day marks a new era in flying both for the people of Northern Ireland and Aer Lingus.
'Our investment in three aircraft and 100 jobs in our first base outside the Republic signals our firm intent to develop new markets as the company continues to grow and serve an expanding route network.'
Politicians and business leaders in the west are still angry at Aer Lingus' decision to axe the Shannon-London routes to facilitate its opening in Belfast. The company has repeatedly said it has no plans to re-instate the Shannon services.
The Aer Lingus arrival in Northern Ireland comes just weeks after rival Ryanair began flying from George Best Belfast City Airport to four destinations in England and Scotland.
Aer Lingus is Ireland's national airline. Based in Dublin, it operates 41 Airbus aircraft serving Europe, Africa, North America and the Middle East. The airline is 28% owned by the Irish government; it was floated on the Dublin and London Stock Exchanges on 2 October 2006, following prior government approval (the government previously owned 85% of the airline). Aer Lingus is a former member of the Oneworld airline alliance, which it left on March 31, 2007. The company employs 4,000 people and has revenue of €1.1 billion as of 2006. Its motto is Enjoy your flight. Aer Lingus transferred 8.6 million passengers in 2006. Aer Lingus has its own frequent flyer programme, the Gold Circle Club programme, featuring three tiers - Gold, Prestige and Elite.
Aer Lingus Teoranta was registered as an airline on 22 May 1936, as a joint venture with Blackpool and West Coast Air Services. The name, Aer Lingus is an anglicisation of the Irish form Aer Loingeas which means Air Fleet (as does one Russian airline, Aeroflot). The name was originally proposed by Richard F O'Connor, who was Cork County Surveyor at the time, and an aviation enthusiast. Five days after being founded the airline opened its first service between Baldonnel Airfield in Dublin and Bristol, England, using a six-seater De Havilland 84 Dragon (registration EI-ABA) biplane which was named Iolar (Eagle). The service was operated under the title Irish Sea Airways. Later that year, the airline acquired its second aircraft, a De Havilland 86 Express, a four engined biplane with a capacity of 14 passengers.
The Aer Lingus short-haul fleet now consists exclusively of Airbus A320 family aircraft.
The airline was established as the national carrier under the Air Navigation and Transport Act (1936). In 1937, the Irish government created Aer Rianta (now called Dublin Airport Authority), a company to assume financial responsibility for the new airline and the entire country's civil aviation infrastructure. In 1938 Iolar was replaced by a de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide and a second DH86B was also purchased. Two Lockheed L-14s arrived in 1939, Aer Lingus' first all-metal aircraft.
In January 1940, a new airport was completed in the Dublin suburb of Collinstown and Aer Lingus moved their operations there. A new DC-3 was bought and new services to Liverpool and an internal service to Shannon were inaugurated. The airline's services were curtailed during World War II with the sole route being to Liverpool or Manchester (Barton) depending on the fluctuating security situation.
On 9 November 1945, regular services were resumed with an inaugural flight to London. From this point on Aer Lingus planes were painted in a silver and green livery, and the airline's first flight attendants were introduced. In 1946, a new Anglo-Irish agreement gave Aer Lingus exclusive UK traffic rights in exchange for a 40% holding by British Overseas Airways Corporation and British European Airways (BEA). Because of Aer Lingus' growth the airline bought seven new Vickers Viking planes in 1947, however, these proved to be uneconomical and were soon sold.
In 1947, Aerlínte Éireann came into existence with the purpose of operating transatlantic flights to New York from Ireland. Three new Lockheed Constellations were ordered but a financial crisis prevented the service from starting. The Constellations were then sold to BOAC and the transatlantic service was put on hold. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Aer Lingus introduced new routes to Brussels, Amsterdam and Rome. Because of the expanding route structure the airline became one of the first to order Vickers Viscount 707s in 1951. In 1956, Aer Lingus introduced a new, green-top livery with a white lighting flash down the windows and the Irish flag displayed on each plane's fin.
On 28 April 1958, Aerlínte Éireann operated the first transatlantic service from Shannon to New York. Three Lockheed Super Constellations were used for the thrice-weekly service. The aircraft were leased from the American airline Seaboard and Western while Irish cabin crews were used. This arrangement continued until 1 January 1960 when Aerlínte Éireann was renamed Aer Lingus - Irish International Airlines. Aer Lingus entered the jet-age on 14 December 1960 when three Boeing 720s were delivered for use on the New York route, as well as for the newest Aer Lingus destination, Boston.
In 1963, Aer Lingus added Carvair's to the fleet. With this aircraft, five cars could be transported by loading them into the fuselage through the nose of the aircraft. The Carvair proved to be uneconomic for the airline, partly due to the rise of car ferry services by sea and the aircraft were then used for freight services until disposed of. The Boeing 720s proved to be a success for the airline on the transatlantic routes. In 1964, Aer Lingus took delivery of the larger Boeing 707.
Conversion of the European fleet to jet equipment began in 1965 when the BAC One-Eleven started services from Dublin and Cork to Paris and via Manchester to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt. A new livery was adopted in the same year, with a large white shamrock on the fin and titles of Aer Lingus-Irish International just above the plane's windows. In 1966, the remainder of the company's shares held by Aer Rianta were transferred to the Minister for Finance.
In 1966, the route from Shannon to Montreal and onward to Chicago was inaugurated.
In 1968, flights from Belfast in Northern Ireland to New York were started. The service was soon suspended due to the beginning of the Troubles in the area. 1969 saw the introduction of Boeing 737s to the Aer Lingus fleet to cope with the high demand for flights between the cities of Dublin and London. Aer Lingus later extended the 737 flights to all of their European network.
In 1970, Aer Lingus took delivery of two Boeing 747s for use on the transatlantic routes. A third was later added to the fleet but one was leased out because it was not profitable at first for the company to fly 747s across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1974, a new livery was unveiled and the word International disappeared from the fuselage titles on Aer Lingus planes. The livery included two different colors of blue and one green, plus the white shamrock on the tail/fin.
In September 1979, Aer Lingus became the first airline other than Alitalia to be used by Pope John Paul II. The pontiff flew aboard a specially modified Boeing 747 (EI-ASI or St. Patrick) from Rome to Dublin and later from Shannon to Boston. In the early 1980s the 707s were phased out.
In 1984, a fully-owned subsidiary, Aer Lingus Commuter, was formed so that Aer Lingus could fly to larger cities in Ireland and Britain whose flying time from Dublin did not require jet planes. These services were operated primarily by five of the Belfast-built Shorts 360 after conducting a trial with the Shorts 330. Around this time Aer Lingus purchased a majority sharehold in the cargo airline Aer Turas, owner of some DC-8 freighter jets.
Between 1987 and 1989, new Boeing 737s arrived to replace the older ones, and 6 Fokker F50s were added to the Commuter fleet. During 1990, after the passage of the deregulation act for the airline industry in Ireland, Aer Lingus had to reconsider its operational policies. The BAC 1-11s were retired and 5 new 737s arrived. In 1991, 4 Saab 340Bs arrived at the commuter division to replace the Shorts 360 planes. By 1992 Aer Lingus's entire original 737-200 fleet had been replaced and was now the first operator in the world of all three versions of the second generation 737. These were the -300, -400 and -500 series, although the -300 did not last long in Aer Lingus service.
In 1994, Aer Lingus started direct services between Dublin and the United States using the Airbus A330 and in May of that year Aer Lingus operated the first A330 ETOPS service on the North Atlantic route. This led to the phasing out of the Boeing 747 and the briefly operated Boeing 767-300ER. On 2 October 1995, the Boeing 747 service ceased operations after twenty-five years of service. By that time, over 8 million people had travelled across the Atlantic in Aer Lingus Boeing 747s. The late 1990s saw Aer Lingus return to Belfast with a service to New York via Shannon. Newark International Airport in New Jersey was also added as a destination. Since then these flights have been suspended.
On 1 February 2001, Aer Lingus Commuter was merged back into the mainline operation. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001 Aer Lingus' business was severely reduced. Staff numbers were cut, destinations were dropped and the fleet was reduced. The airline has since weathered the storm and is back in profit - this has largely been achieved through a strategy of lowering the airline's cost base, updating the fleet with modern Airbus equipment and developing new routes to mainland European destinations (Aer Lingus had previously largely neglected mainland Europe in favour of US and British destinations). They are currently positioning themselves as competition to the European no-frills airlines, such as Ryanair, easyJet, Volare and Germanwings, while offering intercontinental flights as well. Business class travel and cargo provisions for short haul flights have both been phased out.
On 27 October 2005, Aer Lingus announced their first scheduled service to Asia from March 2006 as Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, where Chief Executive Dermot Mannion was based when at Emirates. Despite the Aer Lingus press release describing it as the first long haul service outside the United States, there had in fact been a previous service to Montreal, Canada from 1966-1979. The great circle distance of 5926 kilometres (3682 miles) is comparable to the current service to Chicago but Los Angeles remains Aer Lingus' longest route at 8338 kilometers (5181 miles). At the same time Mr. Mannion linked the funding of new long haul aircraft to replace the A330 fleet with the privatisation of the airline.
On 29 October 2005, Aer Lingus withdrew its last two Boeing 737 aircraft from service. EI-CDH (a 737-500) operated the last sectors from Dublin to Nice, France and back. The aircraft and its sister ship EI-CDG now operate for Rossiya in Russia. This marked the end of Boeing content within Aer Lingus' fleet.
On 6th June Aer Lingus strengthened its relationship with the European manufacturer by ordering 6 of the new A350 XWB as well as 6 A330-300E aircraft. These will be used to expand Aer Lingus' long haul operations as well as replacement aircraft for 3 older models. Deliveries of the A330E will begin in 2009 and the A350 XWB will begin in 2014.
In preparation for the commercial flotation of Aer Lingus on the Dublin stock market, the Irish government agreed to abolish the Shannon stopover from the end of 2006 in stages.
The company began conditional (or "grey-market") share dealings on 27 September 2006 and was formally admitted to the Official Lists of the Irish Stock Exchange and London Stock Exchange on 2 October 2006. At the time of the flotation the Irish government maintained a 28% shareholding, while employees held 15%.
Aer Lingus withdrew from the Oneworld airline alliance on 1 April 2007, however it intends to maintain strong bilateral links with various Oneworld members and has no intention of joining any other global alliance. On 19 November 2006, Aer Lingus declared that it would shortly announce agreements with American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. However negotiations with British Airways have yet to be concluded. The decision to leave the alliance was due to Aer Lingus repositioning itself as a low-fares point to point carrier, which is at odds with Oneworld's pitch to the premium international frequent flyer, and the cost involved for Aer Lingus with the acceptance of new members to the alliance. On 6 February 2007, however, the airline announced its intention to form a new alliance with JetBlue Airways. This new alliance will be a weblink between the two airlines, meaning Aer Lingus customers will be able to book JetBlue destinations from the Aer Lingus website, and vice versa for JetBlue for customers.
With the flotation of Aer Lingus on the stock exchange, Aer Lingus is planning to expand its route network. New destinations to Europe and North America are planned, and further destinations to Asia also.
On 5 October 2006, Ryanair launched a €1.48bn bid to buy Aer Lingus. Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said the move was a "unique opportunity" to form an Irish airline. The "new" airline would carry over 50 million passengers a year. Ryanair said it had bought a 16% stake in Aer Lingus and was offering €2.80 per share for remaining shares. On the same day Aer Lingus rejected Ryanair's takeover bid. On 5 October 2006, Ryanair confirmed it had raised its stake to 19.2%, and said it had no problem in the Irish Government keeping its 28.3%. There were also reports in the Irish Times that the Government would possibly seek judgement from the courts, and referral to competition authorities in Dublin - although this would be automatic under European regulation, as the combined group would control 78% of the Dublin - London passenger air traffic.
On 29 November 2006, Ryanair confirmed it had taken its stake to 26.2% of the airline.
On 21 December 2006, Ryanair announced it was withdrawing its current bid for Aer Lingus, with the intent of pursuing another bid in the near future after the European Commission finishes investigating the current bid. The EC has been concerned that the takeover would reduce consumer choice and increase fares.
On 27 June 2007, the European Commission announced their decision to block the bid on competition grounds saying the two airlines controlled more than 80% of all European flights to and from Dublin airport.
On 7 August 2007 the airline announced that it was to establish its first base outside the Republic of Ireland at Belfast International Airport in Northern Ireland. Services from Belfast International commenced in December 2007, and by February 2008 the airline will have three Airbus A320 aircraft based at the airport which will serve eight European destinations. Significantly, this move restores the Belfast International to London Heathrow link, and will cooperate with its codeshare partner British Airways on this route to connect with British Airways' network from Heathrow. In order to do so, the airline is discontinuing its profitable Shannon-Heathrow service, a move that has generated serious political controversy in the West of Ireland. The airline expects this move to add one million additional passengers annually.
On 22 March 2007, as a result of the Open Skies Agreement, Aer Lingus announced three new long-haul services to the United States. From Autumn 2007, It will commence direct flights to Orlando International (Starts 30 October 2007 - 3x weekly), San Francisco (Starts 28 October 2007 - 4x weekly) and Washington D.C.-Dulles(Starts 6 August 2007 - 4x weekly). These services will be facilitated by the arrival of two new Airbus A330 aircraft in May 2007. The airline already serves Boston Logan Airport, Chicago, New York JFK Airport and Los Angeles