Emerald Airlines chief executive Conor McCarthy hopes the carrier will fly two million passengers a year on the Aer Lingus regional routes that it is poised to take over after the pair struck a deal this week.
Aer Lingus confirmed on Wednesday that it had agreed a 10-year contract with Emerald to operate its regional franchise, previously held by Stobart Air, from January 1st, 2023, although it could launch some services before that date.
Speaking after the announcement, Mr McCarthy said he believed the carrier would be flying “two million passengers a year by the end of 2023”.
At that point, Emerald is set to have 14 aircraft while it will employ more than 400 people, flying about 30 routes between Ireland, Britain, the Isle of Man and Jersey.
Aer Lingus said it would work closely to “evaluate options” for an earlier contract start than January 2023.
Stobart had been due to provide the regional services until December 31st, 2022, but it folded in June after its parent, British infrastructure group Esken, ended financial support.
Mr McCarthy explained that Emerald was working with the Irish authorities to get the licences needed to fly and sell seats on its aircraft by this autumn.
That would give it the option of using its aircraft on former Stobart routes from Dublin that Aer Lingus has taken over, but with aircraft too big to be sustainable in the longer term.
“Those routes are more suited to 70-seat aircraft like the ATR72s that we will be using,” Mr McCarthy pointed out.
Emerald will also apply for UK licences that would allow it to fly from Belfast, where the airline intends to base five aircraft.
Both Stobart and Flybe, which ceased trading last year, had Belfast operations, indicating that there will be opportunities there for the new airline.
Emerald will also fly from Cork and other Irish airports previously served by Stobart when it operated the Aer Lingus regional franchise.
“We’ll replicate what Stobart did in its best years,” said Mr McCarthy. He added that Emerald would still be viable with lower prices and ticket sales.
“From that point of view we’re confident that our business model is prudent and sustainable,” he noted.
Mr McCarthy cautioned that Emerald would bear in mind that it was building a business against ongoing fallout from Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Emerald’s hiring plans could open potential opportunities for some of the 480 people left jobless when Stobart ceased trading.
The new airline will use the same ATR turboprop aircraft as Stobart. Consequently, pilots and cabin crew already qualified to fly on these planes will need less training to work for it.
Lynne Embleton, chief executive of Aer Lingus, said the deal with Emerald would boost the airline's plans to develop Dublin Airport as a Europe-US hub.
Part of the Aer Lingus regional network’s function was to feed passengers into the larger airline’s long-haul services.
“This franchise agreement with Emerald Airlines marks a new chapter in Aer Lingus Regional services and brings choice and certainty to our customers flying between Ireland, the UK and beyond,” she added.
Mr McCarthy dubbed the deal a major development for Irish aviation and tourism.
Aer Lingus and its sister airline, BA Cityflyer, took over Stobart routes from Dublin and Belfast to Britain on a temporary basis. Aer Lingus will continue to operate six routes until March 2022 at least.
Aer Lingus sought bids late last year from carriers interested in taking on the regional contract, which had been due to expire in December 2022. Stobart tendered again, but Emerald emerged as preferred bidder.
The company began talks with Aer Lingus in December on entering a 10-year agreement shortly afterwards.