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Dublin-Beijing air route awaits China approval


Avolon CEO Dómhnal Slattery addresses the IoD meeting   Photo: Jason Clarke

Avolon CEO Dómhnal Slattery addresses the IoD meeting Photo: Jason Clarke

Avolon CEO Dómhnal Slattery addresses the IoD meeting Photo: Jason Clarke

A direct service between Dublin and Beijing has been approved by Hainan Airlines and the final all-clear from the Chinese government is pending, according to Dómhnal Slattery, the chief executive of aircraft leasing firm Avolon.

The planned route has been in development for well over a year now.

Already, Cathay Pacific has announced the first ever scheduled direct connection to Asia from Ireland, and is launching the route between Dublin and Hong Kong next year.

Hainan Airlines is owned by Chinese conglomerate HNA, whose Bohan Leasing unit acquired Dublin-based Avolon in 2015. With more than 900 owned, managed and on-order jets, Avolon is the third-largest aircraft lessor in the world. The company was co-founded by Mr Slattery in 2010.

Speaking yesterday at the autumn lunch of the Institute of Directors, Mr Slattery warned that Ireland needs to significantly expand its diplomatic presence in China if it is to capitalise on opportunities the country presents.

"The size of our representation, diplomatically, in China is de minimis," he said. "(Denmark's) trade and diplomatic representation is about 100 times larger than Ireland's. That's just not good enough.

"There are 1.4 billion people in China who want to drink Irish milk and eat Irish meat. We need to be the primary supplier there." Recounting the development of Avolon, whose $30bn of assets now includes $8bn of equity, Mr Slattery said that Irish startups tend to sell up too soon. Avolon was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in December 2014 before sold months later to Bohai.

He said the listing was personally a "huge learning curve".

"Clearly, the opportunity lies for more and more Irish companies to get to the point of going public and not selling out too early, which is unfortunately a characteristic of a lot of our stars in any sector, particularly the tech sector," he said.

Mr Slattery revealed how he'd been working on establishing Avolon with colleagues about two years before the actual launch.

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But events such as the collapse of Bear Stearns in 2008 put everything on the back burner.

He also said that as Avolon was being developed in 2009, the startup didn't have "50p to rub together", when it approached the Dublin office of law firm Maples.

"I remember I called up the managing partner of Maples at the time and gave him the vision," he said, telling the partner that he had needed top tier legal work done, but had no money to pay for it.

"To give them their due… he said 'we'll give you half-a-million euro in credit for legal work and if it works out, we're going to be your firm for the long term. If it doesn't, we'll write it off'."

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