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Aer Lingus and Dublin Airport relations have ‘soured immensely’

Airline’s Mike Rutter highlights turbulence as it announces Dublin to Philadelphia route

Transatlantic growth: Aer Lingus aircraft at Dublin Airport. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Relations between Aer Lingus and Dublin Airport have “soured immensely” in the last year, according to the airline’s chief operating officer, Mike Rutter.

Aer Lingus announced plans on Wednesday to begin flying from Dublin to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the US from next March and to boost space on its transatlantic services by 177,000 seats to 2.75 million.

Speaking after the announcement, Mr Rutter admitted that relations between Aer Lingus and Dublin Airport “have soured immensely in the last 12 months”.

The pair have clashed several times over what Aer Lingus says is airport owner DAA’s unwillingness to invest in the infrastructure needed to allow the airline’s expansion.

Aer Lingus wants to grow its transatlantic passengers in Dublin to 4.5 million by 2020, from an expected 2.5 million this year, and to continue developing the airport as a hub between Europe and North America.

“The ambitions to do that require investment in taxiways, CBP (customs and border protection), gates and stands,” Mr Rutter said.

He subsequently warned that Aer Lingus’s parent, International Airlines Group (IAG), could move aircraft to other carriers within the organisation if DAA’s spending failed to catch up with his company’s plans.

However, Dublin Airport responded that it ran the business in the best interests of the Irish economy and to meet all airlines’ needs.

“Dublin Airport is currently investing about €100 million per year to upgrade its facilities and we will shortly present proposals for an enhanced investment programme to our airline customers for consultation,” said a spokesman.

He pointed out that Dublin would open a new boarding gate area this year, which Aer Lingus and others would use.

The spokesman welcomed the airline’s plans to launch a Philadelphia service and to grow its transatlantic business.

Aer Lingus will have to compete with American Airlines on its new route, as the US carrier already flies from Dublin to Philadelphia.

Mr Rutter pointed out that the city is the most visited in the US and is home to a high number of Irish Americans.

Along with Philadelphia, Aer Lingus will expand existing services from Dublin to Chicago San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington.

The airline will buy eight Airbus A321 Long Range craft to aid future expansion. Mr Rutter confirmed that this could ultimately include a transatlantic service from Cork.

With IAG’s backing, Aer Lingus has added new services from Dublin to Miami. Los Angeles, Newark, New Jersey and Hartford, Connecticut, since 2015. From next year it will fly to 11 North American destinations.

The carrier will also grow European routes next year. It will have 1.75 million seats on flights to sun spots in Spain, the Canaries and Portugal. It will also fly to a number of other centres, including Bordeaux, Lyon, Rome and Vienna.

Mr Rutter noted that the airline has spent €1 billion on in its expansion since IAG bought it in 2015, and will have invested the same amount again by 2020.

“Since 2014 our new strategy has seen us create over 600 jobs to the end of 2017,” he said. Mr Rutter added that it was recruiting cabin crew and would begin hiring pilots later this month.