Aer Lingus planning spring resumption of BWI-Ireland flights

Irish airline had ceased service here in November after terrorist attacks

Financial health picking up

October 03, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

With its financial recovery ahead of schedule, Irish airline Aer Lingus said yesterday that it is planning to resume flights between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and two airports in Ireland next spring.

The Irish national carrier ended service to BWI in November after the terrorist attacks exacerbated its financial crisis. The departure came about a year after the airline had launched service to BWI, quickly becoming the airport's biggest international carrier.

The airline's departure and a sluggish economy have hurt BWI's meager international operations. International passenger traffic was down about 19 percent in July and about 16 percent in the first half of this year.

Aer Lingus Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh announced the airline's expected return at an economic forum in Ireland yesterday. The airline still has certain cost issues to resolve, but final details are expected to be announced within two weeks. The flights could resume by March, but it is unclear whether the airline will offer daily service to Dublin/Shannon again, or begin with a smaller number of flights initially.

"We're hoping to serve [BWI] with at least what we had before," said Jack Foley, executive vice president of Aer Lingus' North American operations.

State officials had sought to increase service at BWI's 365,000-square-foot international terminal, which opened in 1997. The airport enticed Aer Lingus by waiving landing fees and promising to spend $500,000 a year on advertising and promotion for three years.

The Irish carrier began with three flights per week, but quickly increased that to daily service in response to favorable bookings. The route proved profitable but the airline was besieged by domestic troubles. The carrier suffered a string of labor difficulties at home, the loss of its chief executive and a drop-off in tourism as a result of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Europe.

The September 2001 terrorist attacks were the last straw, forcing the airline to cancel leases on several planes - including one used on the Baltimore route - to conserve cash. The restructuring plan resulted in about 2,000 layoffs and a substantial reduction in service.

In January, Aer Lingus forecast that it would lose about 27 million euros ($26.6 million) in 2002. But with three months to go, the airline is now projecting a profit of up to 40 million euros ($39.5 million) - enough to justify adding a plane to serve BWI.

BWI officials are planning to offer a new package of financial incentives for the airline. Airport spokesman John White said details of the plan are still being negotiated and will be subject to approval by the state Board of Public Works.

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