Sale Of Team Aer Lingus


Sir, - Your Editorial (December 17th) recognises that the sale of TEAM to a Danish group represents the end of a long and often painful process for the State airline. I believe that it raises some issues that merit more attention than they have so far received.

Indigenous engineering excellence in Ireland has rarely been matched by financial sustainability, whether as a result of poor choices of markets, costs out of line with revenues, inadequate financing, poor internal communications and industrial relations, product obsolescence and/or bad luck (including the Gulf War and the subsequent recession). We need to do better.

The ultimate shareholder, the public, has a right to a reasonable degree of transparency. Aer Lingus publishes very little information on segment performance in its annual report and information on the current transaction is extremely limited. Commercial confidentiality is cited, but public companies such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Ryanair and the major US airlines have to be far more forthcoming. Projected increases in charges from FLS to Aer Lingus are disquieting when the airline's development is so fluid and especially when older Boeing 737s are being replaced by new Airbus A321s and A320 which should require much less maintenance.

The airline's future strategy has to be addressed on the basis of reality. Your leading article suggests that Aer Lingus must choose between four sizeable alliances dominating commercial aviation. If it were as simple as that, it would have happened years ago. The interest of the other parties has to be excited, the best feasible alternatives established (maybe including further easing of non-commercial Shannon restrictions) and a choice made in those circumstances of which alliance should be joined and whether an immediate linkage is really the best strategy.

Finally, as a matter of historical record, the Cahill plan (1993) saw TEAM as a particularly difficult part of the core business but did not propose its sale. Even in the 1996 annual report, released in March 1997, the objective was to "forge an alliance with a strong international party". It was only by November 1997, possibly due to practical difficulties in finding suitable partners, that a decision for disposal became public, with FLS identified as the preferred partner in mid-December. Oddly, the annual report for 1997 records the directors' decision to exit from aircraft maintenance as having taken place after the end of that year.

Hopefully, the new TEAM FLS and the independent Aer Lingus will both thrive under these new arrangements. - Yours, etc., Antoin Daltun,

Belmont Gardens, Dublin 4.