Air Transport World

The greening of Europe: Ireland and Aer Lingus are discovering the joys and possibilities of being part of the grand European experiment. (includes article on the launching of a new maintenance facility)

The greening of Europe

Ireland and Aer Lingus are discovering the joys and possibilities in being part of the grand European experiment. Text and photos by J.A. Donoghue. Dublin--Aer Lingus has been known as a competent but smallish European carrier that thrived on tourist traffic and a public style that hinted of leprechauns capering about beneath the floorboards. Heavy on shamrocks and many shades of green, Aer Lingus's image to the traveler was a smile, a brogue and a Guinness.

While North Atlantic passengers still will see this face of Aer Lingus, the carrier's focused thrust into Europe has caused it to alter that image, keeping the smile and most of the rest but letting some of its hard-driving, aggressive nature show through as it goes after the business traveler. Green is a lovely color but enough is enough, especially in the eyes of frequent fliers. And wouldn't a bit o' gold in the coffers be a lovely complement.

An underlying change in business orientation has shifted the company's orientation from the North American market to Europe. Aer Lingus as a company and Ireland as a nation are climbing on the European Community (EC) bandwagon, no longer viewing the world largely through relations with the U.S., but as an integral part of the newest, most dynamic entity in the world.

Here's a quick summation of some of Aer Lingus's bolder moves:

* Establishment of a remote hub operation at Manchester Airport, linking the U.K. to the continent in a fifth-freedom operation made possible by EC liberalization. * Spinning off its complete maintenance operation to form a subsidiary, Team Aer Lingus, and building a $60 million hangar in Dublin (see page 36). * Participating in the start-up of charter carriers in Spain and Turkey. * Dropping most of its North American hotel properties and moving ahead with vigorous expansion of its European hotel holdings.

A company that has thrived on diversification for years, Aer Lingus recently has had to depend on its nonairline activities for the majority of its profits, carrier operations last year being driven into the red by the heated competition in the opening European markets. But Aer Lingus is not shrinking from the air-transport fray but rather, moving to increase its opportunities for competition.

With most European carriers choosing up partners in preparation for the dropping of competitive barriers at the end of 1992, Aer Lingus is expanding its presence and competitive reach in efforts to make itself an attractive partner.

"Aer Lingus is not on the first list of airlines people are interested in as alliance partners," admitted Cathal Mullan, Aer Lingus CEO. "We've had a reasonably high reputation for a small airline but we're on the edge of Europe."

Although a smallish airline fairly far from the core of the fray, Aer Lingus for the past four years has been expanding traffic at a rate faster than the European norm.

Solidify the foundation

Mullan's basic strategy is to solidify the foundation and branch out from there. "Our first job is to make sure we're the market leader to Ireland in product and costs," Mullan told ATW. "You've got to make sure the roots are being nourished by the soil the plant is in."

That said, it must be recognized that "we're too dependent on the Ireland market. …

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