Aer Lingus regional operator Emerald Airlines will take over the State-supported Dublin-Donegal air service from next month.
Scandinavian carrier Amapola Flyg has been flying the route under a stop-gap arrangement with the Government since July after previous operator Stobart Air collapsed in June.
The Department of Transport has awarded a three-year contract to Emerald Airlines after putting the route out to tender across the EU in August.
Emerald, run by well-known aviation figure Conor McCarthy, will launch its Dublin-Donegal service from February 26th, the day after Amapola’s contract ends, ensuring there will be no break between two.
The airline will fly a 72-seat ATR aircraft twice daily each way between the two airports.
Aer Lingus brand
Emerald will fly the route under the Aer Lingus brand and flight numbers. Its schedule will allow passengers to connect with the larger carrier’s network.
Aer Lingus last year awarded its regional franchise to Emerald following several months of talks. That will launch on St Patrick’s Day, March 17th. Mr McCarthy said the award of the contract would ensure continued links between the two destinations.
“Not only will this be a huge boost for travel between Donegal and Dublin but it will also re-establish vital tourism connections to Donegal on the wider Aer Lingus network,” he predicted.
Donegal Airport chairman Steve Ó Cúláin and managing director Eilís Ní Dhochartaigh said the extra Emerald seats would aid the gateway in recovering traffic post Covid. Passengers can book flights for the new service now.
Emerald’s contract runs for three years. The deal is a “public service obligation” agreement, which means the State part funds the flights. EU law allows governments to give cash to support routes to airports in peripheral regions. Donegal has no direct rail or motorway links to Dublin.
The Government hired Amapola on a temporary contract in July following Stobart’s closure. In August officials sought bids for a three-year deal.
Emerald will begin flying 340 times a week across 11 routes between Ireland and Britain under the Aer Lingus Regional banner from March 17th.
Mr McCarthy established the airline in 2020 successfully bidding for the Aer Lingus Regional contract.
The airline was originally due to replace previous operator Stobart in January next year, but brought forward its launch to fill gaps left by the other carrier’s closure.
The potential loss of State-backed services between Dublin and Donegal and Kerry sparked a political row in the wake of Stobart's failure. The Department of Transport offered interim contracts for both. Ryanair now flies the Kerry route without State aid.
Eamon Ryan, Minister for Transport, and Hildegarde Naughton, Minister of State at the department, welcomed news that Emerald will take over the Donegal service from next month.