Exclusive: Preferred bidder Emerald Airlines expected to sign contracts soon in wake of Stobart Air collapse
Aer Lingus Regional aircraft could be back in the air by October as Conor McCarthy’s Emerald Airlines finalises steps to launch services over the coming weeks, it is understood.
Emerald Airlines, which is financially backed by Mr McCarthy and a number of private investors, was named preferred bidder last November by Aer Lingus to operate the Aer Lingus Regional service. Final contracts are expected to be signed soon.
Aer Lingus Regional had been operated by Dublin-
based Stobart Air under a contract that was due to expire at the end of 2022. Stobart Air collapsed last month. Stobart Air was owned by listed UK group Esken, which had been trying to sell the Irish unit.
Stobart Air – where Mr McCarthy was non-executive chairman from 2018 to 2019 – also held contracts to operate two taxpayer-funded public service obligation (PSO) routes, from Dublin to Donegal and Kerry.
The Government is fast-tracking a tender to secure an interim operator for those routes for seven months. It hopes to announce that operator within the next couple of weeks. A competition for a long-term contract for the PSO routes will take place later in the year.
Emerald Airlines was precluded from competing for the seven-month contract award as it does not yet have its Air Operator Certificate (AOC). Mr McCarthy said Emerald hopes to fulfil all conditions to secure its AOC and its Irish operating licence by September. That will enable it to tender to operate the PSOs when the four-year contract comes up for grabs.
Emerald’s first two turboprop aircraft are currently being prepared for service at Exeter Aerospace in the UK – a company owned by Mr McCarthy’s Dublin Aerospace.
The fledgling airline has already hired its first dozen pilots and a dozen cabin crew, who are undergoing operational conversion courses in Toulouse.
By the end of next year, Mr McCarthy said Emerald should have 14 aircraft in service and about 400 staff. It already has about 40 staff members hired for its headquarters at Dublin Airport. That office is currently being fitted out.
Of its planned fleet, Emerald Airlines is in detailed negotiations for four of its additional aircraft and has been offered 34 aircraft to fill the final eight that will make up its fleet.
Mr McCarthy said Emerald Airlines is in talks with Dublin, Cork and Belfast airports about establishing operations at those facilities.
He said Emerald eventually expects to be contributing 200,000 passengers a year to Aer Lingus’s transatlantic network out of Dublin.
Passenger traffic at Irish airports has been annihilated during the pandemic, while the Government has delayed the introduction of the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate until July 19. All other member states introduced it last week.
Aer Lingus has been devastated by the pandemic and Ireland’s rigorous Covid restrictions.
Last year, the airline lost €563m, and it made a €103m loss in the first quarter of 2021.
Aer Lingus chief executive Lynne Embleton told an Oireachtas committee last month that the carrier is unlikely to have any meaningful summer business due to continuing restrictions.