Shannon at risk by Aer Lingus plan for partner, say pilots


Shannon's future as an international airport is in the balance, the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (IALPA) said yesterday. Aer Lingus's future cannot be assured without a strategic alliance with a major US carrier and that is not possible while the Irish airline is obliged to serve Dublin and Shannon equally on its transatlantic services.

IALPA's president, Mr Dermot Moran, said "the baggage" of the compulsory Shannon service will make it difficult for Aer Lingus to get a partner.

The Minister for Employment and Enterprise, Ms O'Rourke, is due to receive a report on Friday from Aer Lingus on the options it has in linking up with other airlines. A spokesman for Aer Lingus said yesterday it could not comment on the report because it was not yet complete and had not been submitted to the Minister.

However, it is understood the Aer Lingus report is similar to IALPA's in that it acknowledges that the US authorities' price for agreeing to an alliance with an American carrier is an "open skies" aviation. That, in effect, means airlines operate a completely commercial policy. This would end winter services out of Shannon to New York, Newark, Boston and Chicago.

Shannon is also suffering from a major reduction in flights by Aeroflot. Its charter business from Europe is down by 50 per cent this summer.

"We are on the way to becoming a regional airport," a Shannon source said yesterday.

The IALPA report says it is urgent that Aer Lingus acquire a strategic partner soon. It does not come down on which available partner the Irish carrier might link up with though it seems to indicate a preference for the STAR Alliance, which includes Lufthansa and the US carrier, United.

The Aer Lingus report to Ms O'Rourke will say that an alliance is absolutely essential to Aer Lingus but will not identify the preferred partner.