Saturday 10 December 2016

Gerry Connolly

The aviator and businessman blazed a trail for Ryanair and other independent airlines to follow, writes Luke Mooney

Published 17/04/2011 | 05:00

Gerry Connolly was born on D-Day -- June 6, 1944 -- in Ilford, Essex, the elder son and second child of Bill and Mollie Connolly. In 1948, the family returned to Ireland and settled in Walkinstown, Dublin.

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His higher studies were at the College of Commerce, Rathmines, where he was a keen debater. He was clever, self-confident and innovative.

In his late teens he took up flying as a hobby and became a chief flying instructor by the age of 20. Over a period of time he was to graduate from his jointly owned Falco to a magnificent Jetstar which ferried him up and down the African continent.

Gerry began his business career in 1962 at Guinness brewery, which he left to join Lambert Jones Estates, then owned by the Slazenger family. In the late 1970s, Gerry brought his great love of flying to another level by obtaining the distribution rights to sell Kingair aircraft in Ireland from the Beechcraft Corporation. He soon realised the returns from selling and leasing large aircraft were far greater than were available selling smaller aircraft; thus was IAS conceived and established at Shannon.

At the same time, he spotted the opportunity to create a small internal airline when the first government subsidies were made available to link Dublin with Derry. He was backed by Crest Holdings to establish Avair and win this concession.

Avair achieved early success with its first flight in 1978 -- a full seven years before Ryanair began.

Despite Gerry's best endeavours, his attempt to break the mould of Irish aviation was thwarted and Avair closed in 1984. He had proven, however, that there was popular support for an independent airline in Ireland.

His capacity to lead and inspire those who worked with him was exemplified by the collective attitude of the Avair staff who stood by him when closure became inevitable. It was generally conceived that he paved the way for other people to come after him and successfully establish a world-leading airline from Dublin.

After Avair, Gerry busied himself building IAS and other aviation-related businesses in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa, a continent for which he developed a life-long passion.

After a period of ill-health in 2004/5 Gerry joined Planitas Airline Systems. He worked as a consultant for this airline software company from 2006 until his death. He was highly sought after for advice on commercial matters, where his international experience was invaluable.

Gerry, who died on March 14, was first and foremost a father, a gentleman and citizen of the world. He is survived by his partner Gill, his children Mark, Sarah, Karen and Tina and their mother Diana, as well as his five grandchildren.

Sunday Independent

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