Aer Lingus closes in on deal for seven jets
Long-range version of Airbus A321neo to be added to fleet
Aer Lingus is understood to be close to finalising a deal that would add seven long-range versions of the Airbus A321neo to its fleet.
Aer Lingus, part of the IAG airline group that also owns British Airways, Iberia and Vueling, has been eyeing the aircraft for some time. If the deal is sealed, the jets would join the Aer Lingus fleet beginning in 2019.
They would be used to help Aer Lingus expand operations to the US, initially replacing leased Boeing 757s that the carrier has used both on thinner routes to the US, and to boost frequencies on others.
Aer Lingus declined to comment on whether a deal has been finalised. It issued a request for tender for the jets last year.
The long-range A321neo could also be used on the Aer Lingus European network, ceo Stephen Kavanagh told the Irish Independent in a recent interview. The new jets would most likely be leased.
"We remain confident that the aircraft has the capacity to assist us in building out our ambition," he said. "And if we retain discipline with regard to cost, that aircraft opens up new opportunities.
"That's opportunities that are not necessarily unique to Aer Lingus, but there aren't too many other businesses that can exploit them across the Atlantic in a way that we're looking at," he added.
The long-range version of the A321neo has a range equivalent of just beyond the UK to the east coast of the US.
Mr Kavanagh said the Airbus could be configured to accommodate 16 business travellers and 172 economy seats.
"It's perfect for those routes that are of thinner demand and perfect where you want to build frequency, which is important when you want to build out a hub," he said.
"Because it has commonality with our existing A320 operations, there's the potential that we could use the time between transatlantic operations to supplement our European network," Mr Kavanagh said.
Prior to finalising a contract for the new jets, Mr Kavanagh said senior bosses have to convince themselves they could retain the ability to operate them efficiently.
"Where currently we have a single A330 operation on a route, that could increase to a double-daily operation with the A321, without compromising the aircraft-related cost per seat," said the chief executive.
He said the A321 could also allow Aer Lingus to add routes that A330 aircraft are too big for, and for which the Boeing 757 "doesn't have the right economics".
"It's potentially a very interesting and enabling aircraft for us," said Mr Kavanagh. "It's very much what our competitors in that space are going to be using. The number of choices that would be enabled by this new technology would increase. Given the relatively short, mid-haul nature of these [aircraft], an A321 is a very competitive product.
"We would see that this type of aircraft will play an increasing role in the evolution of north Atlantic air travel."