Aer Lingus may restart flights to US west coast


AER LINGUS is in talks with four airports in California about possibly re-establishing a route from Dublin to the west coast of the US.

It is understood that Aer Lingus is in discussions with airports in San Francisco, San José, Oakland and Los Angeles about operating a year-round service.

Such a service would not begin until March 2012 at the earliest.

Aer Lingus is also believed to have had talks recently with the Dublin Airport Authority about adding to its long-haul services from here, which include flights from Dublin to New York, Boston, and Chicago, and a seasonal service to Orlando, Florida.

A spokesman for Aer Lingus confirmed that such a move is being considered by the airline.

“We are evaluating a number of options and we expect to conclude those evaluations shortly,” he said.

This will include assessing the feasibility of operating the service all year around.

While there is likely to be demand from business travellers, it is not clear if there would be sufficient traffic from tourists during the winter months to make the service profitable for Aer Lingus.

California is the top connecting destination for flights out of Dublin Airport, with San Francisco and Los Angeles separately among the top five.

Aer Lingus pulled its Dublin to San Francisco route in October 2009 along with other services to the US to stem mounting losses.

But changes to working practices agreed in recent deals with staff should alter the economics of operating flights to the west coast.

The airline currently offers indirect services to the west coast through code-sharing deals with United Airlines and Jet Blue.

Aer Lingus carried 96,000 passengers on routes to the US in July, down 3 per cent year on year.

Recent figures for Dublin Airport show that transatlantic traffic to north America – the US and Canada – grew by 7 per cent in June and by 8 per cent in July.

Travel has been boosted by the addition of flights to Charlotte, North Carolina, by US Airways and by strong inbound traffic.

Establishing a connection to the west coast of America is something that Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has called for since taking office earlier this year.

The Government is keen to cement links with US multinationals there, particularly IT companies in Silicon Valley.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said Aer Lingus would be able to tap into a fund of about €8.5 million that has been set aside from the proceeds of the travel tax to promote air access.

In May, the US-based Irish Technology Leadership Group wrote to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and called for the re-establishment of the route.

It argued that it would be a “huge boost to the continuation and acceleration of economic links between Ireland and Silicon Valley”.

“The lack of a direct route makes this journey time consuming and frustrating, and could also be misinterpreted as a representation of Ireland declining rather than embracing its technology and ‘smart economy’ future,” the letter said.

It was signed by 63 business leaders, mayors and state agency chiefs on both side of the Atlantic.

Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday, John Hartnett, founder and president of the group, said: “We’re pushing to get it back. I think the opportunity and demand is there.”

Mr Hartnett said he has lobbied Aer Lingus board members on the issue and called for a decision to be made quickly.

“We need to push them to make a decision one way or the other.”