Aer Lingus moving transatlantic flights to UK is more than a warning shot

Republic faces steep challenge to restore air links with the rest of the world

The irony should not be lost on anyone: Aer Lingus, an Irish airline, applying for a US permit, under a treaty agreed between that country and the UK to ensure air travel continues between the two jurisdictions post-Brexit.

Aer Lingus (UK) Ltd, a subsidiary of the Irish carrier, is seeking a permit from Washington's department of transportation to fly from Manchester to Boston, New York and Orlando, Florida, from next summer.

It has been clear for some months that Aer Lingus was considering offering transatlantic services from Britain. Some airline industry observers dismissed this as the company firing a shot across the Government’s bows in an effort to get it to ease tough Covid-19 travel restrictions.

However, seeking slots in Manchester Airport, which has had the space since Thomas Cook’s collapse last year, and setting up a UK subsidiary, which then applies for British airline licences and a US foreign carrier’s permit, are statements of intent, not warning shots.

Nevertheless, the Government should take heed. In particular, politicians should pay close attention to the fact that Aer Lingus plans not just moving two Airbus A330s from the Republic to Manchester, but also allocating two new A321 long range (LR) jets to the proposed services from the English airport to the US. Those aircraft are due to arrive in the spring, when they will be registered in the UK.

Transatlantic business

Aer Lingus always intended to use the A321LRs to grow its Irish transatlantic business, regarding them as ideal for this purpose. However, instead two of them will ply their trade in Manchester.

You could argue that Aer Lingus could have done this irrespective of Covid restrictions. It could well be better placed than British Airways, a sister carrier in International Airlines Group, to exploit the opportunity offered at Manchester.

But its move shows clearly the challenges the Republic faces when it comes to restoring vital air links with the rest of the world. Luring those aircraft back from Manchester, or finding others to replace them, will require far clearer signals from Government than those it has so far sent the aviation industry.