Saturday 18 November 2017

Take Walsh's money, and kick county councillors out of the airline business

Aer Lingus was hamstrung for years by politicians - now they're at it again

Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, speaking to journalists as he left Leinster House last week after his meeting with the Oireachtas Committee on Transport. Photo: Frank McGrath
Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, speaking to journalists as he left Leinster House last week after his meeting with the Oireachtas Committee on Transport. Photo: Frank McGrath
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

On Thursday last, Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG (International Airlines Group), the prospective bidders for Aer Lingus, provided members of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport with an elegant tutorial on how commercial airlines actually work.

He was wasting his time - the assembled deputies and senators showed not the slightest interest. Instead, they focussed relentlessly on constituency or trade union angles. Several sought unconditional assurances on the maintenance of specific routes or the introduction of new ones serving airports in their home counties or on jobs-for-life commitments for Aer Lingus staff. In effect they were inviting Mr Walsh to commit his employers IAG to losing money in their constituencies. He declined as politely as he could. The enhanced role of Oireachtas committees was meant to be a key political reform resulting from the bubble disaster. Last Thursday's county council meeting suggests that nothing has changed.

The political discussion of the IAG proposal has been conducted rather as if Aer Lingus still belonged to the politicians. Anyone concerned about the airline's future will be breathing a sigh of relief that it does not. An airline route network designed by the members of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport would truly be a sight to behold. There is no computable limit to the amount of money these people would lose running an airline. Aer Lingus had to be rescued with taxpayers' money on several occasions when it was the plaything of politicians. The members of the Oireachtas Committee should be left severely alone in their nostalgia for political management of the Irish airline business.

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