Aer Lingus expects further delays in the delivery of the Airbus A350, CEO Christoph Mueller tells Aviation Week, and plans to begin talks with the airframer about a new delivery schedule for the carrier’s nine A350-900s on firm order.
Airbus late last year delayed entry into service of the aircraft by up to six months, with the first A350-900 now expected in the first half of 2014. The shift was due to the late completion of major components. At the time, A350 program chief Didier Evrard said Airbus wants to limit the amount of traveled work in final assembly, trying to avoid the issues that Boeing has faced in the 787 program. Mueller says he expects delays beyond the ones announced by Airbus. The airline is due to receive its first A350-900 in 2015.
The airline is nonetheless progressing with fleet planning. Mueller says the A321NEO would be the “ideal aircraft” for Aer Lingus’s transatlantic routes, which currently are served by four A330-300s and three -200s. The A321NEO would have enough range for the Dublin-New York and Dublin-Boston routes, but it could not be used for the Chicago service. The airline has not yet ordered new narrow-bodies. It currently has a one A319, 34 A320s and three A321s.
Aer Lingus managed to reach a €49 million ($66 million) operating profit in 2011, a much better result than anticipated at the start of last year and a margin of 4.7%. The profit was only slightly below the 2010 earnings (€52 million). The carrier attributed the success mainly to a 4.8% improvement in average yield per passenger. Revenues increased by 6% to €1.3 billion.
Demand is particularly strong in the business travel market, and the airline finds its long-haul, business-class cabin is becoming “too small.” The airline therefore plans soon to make an announcement about increased long-haul premium capacity.
Mueller says Aer Lingus has increased its market share in Ireland by 8% since 2008 and now has a share of 43.9%. The carrier has focused on more frequencies in core markets and reduced exposure to charter-type low-frequency destinations. That also has helped with improving connectivity at its Dublin base.
The airline plans to continue operating outside the global alliances, saying they are “too expensive.” It would reconsider if the cost of joining and maintaining membership decreased. Mueller still expects Ireland to proceed with Aer Lingus’s privatization this year, although that schedule may shift to early 2013.
He says he has only read in the press about Etihad Airways supposedly being interested in investing in Aer Lingus, but he cautions that another airline shareholder would only make sense if the arrangement did not have any negative consequences for Aer Lingus’s bilateral relationships with other carriers. Mueller says he is not sure that is the case for Air Berlin. Etihad recently bought 29% of the German airline, which is due to join the Oneworld alliance in March.