Tuesday 25 October 2016

Despite self-interest, claims can't be dismissed

Published 03/04/2015 | 02:30

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh. Photo: Steve Humphreys
IAG chief executive Willie Walsh. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Willie Walsh tried to shrug off the interventions of both Virgin Atlantic and US billionaire Donald Trump this week into the debate on the sale of Aer Lingus.

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Neither knew what they were harping on about, the Irishman suggested, claiming he was more interested in the views of those in Ireland who understand the issues.

Whatever about Mr Trump, the views of Virgin Atlantic shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, certainly not by the Government.

True, the carrier's motives for engaging in the debate are selfish. But Virgin Atlantic is clued in about the aviation sector.

No one will be fooled by the notion floated yesterday by Virgin's smooth-talking director of network and alliances that the airline simply wants to ensure the voice of consumers is being heard. Richard Branson's Virgin has skin in the game, but that doesn't mean its views should be dismissed.

And to be fair to Joe Thompson, the carrier's director of network and alliances, he was upfront about this. He made a number of valid points worthy of consideration.

Chief among those is the argument that IAG had given assurances on Aer Lingus routes in and out of Heathrow, but hasn't given any guarantees about the overall service being provided between the UK and Ireland by British Airways.

And he warned that IAG could downgrade some of the services in terms of seat capacity by using smaller aircraft.

IAG and Virgin are competitors on a number of long haul routes, including between the UK and the US. The truth is, an Aer Lingus-IAG deal will dent Virgin's business.

If IAG's bid is sealed, it would offer a boon for British Airways by giving its customers direct access to US pre-clearance in Ireland, which is a major selling point for transatlantic routes. So Virgin is keeping a close eye on its own business interests, as one would expect, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have a point.

Irish Independent

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