Delays in Airbus aircraft delivery slowing Aer Lingus expansion, says chief

Walsh says issue forced airline to postpone new Dublin-North America services

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh. Aer Lingus postponed the launch of a Dublin-Montreal service to summer 2020 from this year following a hold-up in the delivery of new Airbus A321 long range. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh. Aer Lingus postponed the launch of a Dublin-Montreal service to summer 2020 from this year following a hold-up in the delivery of new Airbus A321 long range. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Delays in the delivery of new Airbus aircraft is slowing expansion at Aer Lingus, according to Willie Walsh, chief executive of the carrier’s owner, International Airlines’ Group (IAG).

Aer Lingus postponed the launch of a Dublin-Montreal service to summer 2020 from this year following a hold-up in the delivery of new Airbus A321 long range (LR) craft that the airline had ordered from the European aerospace manufacturer.

Mr Walsh confirmed on Thursday that delays in delivery of the new craft had prompted the airline to postpone announcing “one or two” other new services from Dublin to North America and holding off on adding extra capacity to some existing routes.

Issue

Aer Lingus has two of the new A321s in service and is expecting six more, but the delivery of five of those has been put back to between February and December 2020, when they should have begun arriving this year.

Mr Walsh pointed out that craft would arrive after the peak summer period, instead of before, when the airline would ideally want to receive them.

He explained that the A321LR is central to Aer Lingus’s plans to expand its services from Dublin Airport to North America.

“It’s a huge issue for us, it’s one of the reasons why I have been so upset with the performance of Airbus,” he said.

Mr Walsh recently addressed a conference of up to 600 Airbus senior managers at the company’s facility in Toulouse, France, where he told them that delaying the delivery of craft that Aer Lingus needed to expand its long-haul services had a serious impact on the airline. “They need to understand how disruptive this issue is for airlines,” he said.

Problems at the Airbus manufacturing plant, in Hamburg, Germany, where it produces the A321s, have caused the delays, according to Mr Walsh.

Meanwhile, Mr Walsh repeated his group’s argument that Dublin Airport owner, State company DAA, can pay for a proposed €1.8 billion expansion if the State’s aviation regulator cuts passenger charges by 15 per cent to €7.50 a head from next year.

Bottlenecks

DAA has pledged to spend the money expanding aircraft stands and boarding gates to ease bottlenecks and allow Dublin to handle up to 40 million passengers a year, from about 30 million currently.

However, the company says it can only do this if charges, imposed on airlines for the passengers they fly out of the airport, remain unchanged, and not if they are reduced.

It argues the Commission for Aviation Regulation’s proposal to cut the levy could hit its ability to borrow the cash needed to pay for expansion.

Mr Walsh rejected DAA’s argument. “They can do this with lower charges,” he said.

“They should come down, our fares are not increasing or flat, our fares are coming down.”

He also stressed that it was not in anyone’s interest to see Dublin Airport’s viability undermined.

Aer Lingus’s growth plans are partly based on using Dublin as a hub to transfer passengers between its North American and European services.

Mr Walsh also confirmed that Aer Lingus intended contracting out its catering services next year. The airline has begun talks with unions representing about 250 staff who work on providing the food and drink for its in-flight services.

He added that he could not comment on the outcome of the talks with workers’ representatives as the process had only just begun.