Walsh: right jets will drive Aer Lingus growth
Aer Lingus would be capable of expanding even faster than its current blistering pace, but availability of the right aircraft for its transatlantic network has tempered growth, IAG CEO Willie Walsh has told the Irish Independent.
He also said that the performance of Aer Lingus's premium seating has been very strong across the Atlantic, bolstered by economic growth in Ireland and the continued investment by multinationals in the country.
"We're very comfortable about Aer Lingus's ability to expand," he said. "What we need to do is to ensure it's with the right assets. We identified that the Airbus A321LR was the right asset for Aer Lingus, and that only becomes available this year.
"The pace of expansion is more dictated by the delivery of aircraft than it is by the ability of the airline," he said.
"Aer Lingus would be capable of expanding faster. But there's no point in locking ourselves into an inefficient asset."
Aer Lingus, which IAG acquired in 2015, has expanded significantly since then.
Last year, it opened routes from Dublin to Seattle and Philadelphia, and this year starts services to Montreal and Minneapolis-St Paul.
It has predicated much of its transatlantic expansion on the Airbus A330, but will take delivery of four Airbus A321LR jets this year, with nine eventually joining the fleet.
New Aer Lingus CEO Sean Doyle told the Irish Independent that the airline continues to evaluate a "double-digit" number of possible destinations in North America. His predecessor, Stephen Kavanagh, previously said cities such as Denver and Vancouver were on the airline's radar.
Mr Doyle said the A321LRX, with an even longer range, would be capable of reaching some US west coast destinations. Aer Lingus already serves San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle.
"There are plenty of opportunities for growth and we're pursuing them," said Mr Doyle. "Our business plan has us growing from 17 [long-haul] aircraft today to 30 by 2023. That, by any measure, is significant expansion."
Mr Walsh added: "It is very much a case of getting aircraft availability. We've been out there looking for additional availability. It's not a simple thing. We're not adverse to looking at the A330, but we don't think that's necessarily the right aircraft at this time."
Releasing 2018 results yesterday, IAG said that Aer Lingus revenue jumped 8.8pc to €2.02bn, while its operating profit was almost 14pc higher, at €305m.
It was another record result for the carrier. The airline's available seat capacity rose 10pc last year.
IAG also owns British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Level. On a group basis, revenue was up 6.7pc at €24.4bn. Operating profit rose 9.5pc to €3.2bn.