Irish airline will fly to BWI

Aer Lingus receives preliminary approval for nonstop flights

Air travel

May 17, 2000|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

The Irish airline Aer Lingus received preliminary federal approval yesterday for round-trip flights between Baltimore and Ireland, bolstering the international passenger service that Maryland transportation officials have struggled to improve the past three years.

The U.S. Department of Transportation granted Ireland's national airline authority to fly between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and two airports in Ireland - Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport near Limerick.

Approval of the routes is subject to a 10-day review and comment period, but state officials say privately that they consider the review a formality.

Aer Lingus plans to fly three flights a week from BWI beginning in September - departing at 9:30 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday - and to offer daily service beginning in May 2001. The new flights will provide the only nonstop, one-airplane service between Baltimore and Ireland.

But more important for officials at BWI, where the $140 million William Donald Schaefer International Terminal has largely failed to attract new carriers since its completion in 1997, Aer Lingus is one of two airlines bringing new foreign service to Maryland for the first time in more than a decade.

Last month, Ghana Airways got federal approval for a twice-weekly service between BWI and Accra, Ghana. Those flights will begin in July."This is great news for us - two new international carriers in less than 60 days," said state transportation secretary John D. Porcari. "I think it shows that the fundamentals are in place for international service at BWI to really thrive."

While BWI's low-fare carriers and its location between two large cities has led to double-digit growth in domestic travel, foreign service has remained largely stagnant, limited mostly to service to the Caribbean, military flights and charter service.

Maryland's state and federal officials approached Aer Lingus more than a year ago in hopes of bringing the carrier to BWI, and then lobbied U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater for the authority to make it happen.

Aer Lingus Executive Vice President Jack Foley said the carrier had long hoped to tap into the market for business travel in Baltimore and Washington. But BWI also made sense because Baltimore is already one of the airline's largest sources of Ireland-bound tourists and Irish-Americans.

"The last few years, the Baltimore area has been one of the top centers for group travel for us," Foley said. "There's also a great potential for corporate travel, and now those travelers won't have to connect through Newark" or John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, which the airline already serves.

The airline plans to fly wide-body Airbus A330 aircraft, which seat 320 passengers.

Under an agreement between the United States and Ireland, airlines that fly nonstop service to Dublin Airport must fly an equal number of flights to Shannon Airport. As such, all Aer Lingus flights leaving BWI will stop in both cities.

Fares for the new service have not been announced, but Foley said pricing will be "aggressive." A round-trip flight to Ireland, booked from BWI using an American carrier to connect to Newark or New York, would cost about $600 in September and less than $400 in the winter. Foley said he expects BWI's direct flights to be cheaper.

"When we go in, we anticipate that pricing will be a benefit," he said.

Aer Lingus is Ireland's state-owned airline, founded in 1936. It's name is an Anglicization of the Irish term Aer Loingeas, which means "air fleet."

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