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Aer Lingus...

By Barry Mulcahy
July 3, 2002

...Not Just an Airline

Aer Lingus has a history spanning over 66 years and one of its many catchy slogans was “This is not just an airline, this is Aer Lingus”. Is Aer Lingus just an airline? Or does it hold a special place in the hearts of Irish people symbolizing our independence, our friendly image and our heritage?

Aer Lingus has been hit hard by recent events. Agricultural difficulties in Ireland and neighboring England, of Foot and Mouth disease and BSE, caused a slump in numbers traveling to other countries. Staff strikes over pay issues grinded the airline’s operations to a halt during 2001. The global economic downturn coupled with the tragic events of September 11th spread panic through seasoned travelers and yearly holidaymakers alike. Two national carriers have shut down operations due to lack of funds (namely Swissair and Sabena, the latter becoming bankrupt). The debate has been whether or not Ireland’s flag carrier should be given state aid. On one hand you have the EU dismissing state aid, but others see the government solely as a shareholder in the company and feel they should be allowed to give a cash injection mainly from tax payers’ hard earned cash.

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Photo © Laurent Herjean

In the beginning Aer Lingus operated schedules using a single De Havilland Dragon affectionately known as “Iolar”, meaning eagle. Operations began on the 27th of May, 1936 from Dublin Baldonnel (now a military base) to Bristol Whitechurch, and Aer Lingus was born. People often wonder where such an unusual name comes from, when translated from Irish, Aer Lingus means Air Fleet. Little did the founders know how such a simple name would become synonymous with quality, reliability and, above all, safety. The airline grew from strength to strength and with its growth came modernization, always featuring the newest of types suited to Ireland’s unique air transport needs. From Electra’s to DC3’s, Constellations to Vickers Vikings, and Viscounts and B747s to A330s. The vast amount of aircraft that have passed through the Aer Lingus liveries have advertised it’s brand recognition worldwide.

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Photo © Peter Gates

In 1947 the carrier’s growth attained such high standings that it was time to look to new routes. The decision that followed would change Aer Lingus forever. Aerlinte Eireann was set up with a fleet of 5 Lockheed Constellations to operate transatlantic routes - a key element in the airline’s business today. Over the years the two companies were closely linked and in 1960 they were merged under the new title of “Aer Lingus - Irish National Airlines”. Little at this time did Aer Lingus chiefs know that in the 21st century their reliance on this key market would be the ultimate source of their demise. Many aircraft spread their wings across the Atlantic ocean in the mighty Aer Lingus colors including the first ever Irish jet aircraft used for commercial purposes a Boeing 720 called St. Patrick. Perhaps the most noticeable of these aircraft were a set of two Boeing 747’s purchased by the airline. While proving extremely popular with staff and passengers alike the aircraft were uneconomical often providing over-capacity at an expensive rate. In latter years the aircraft were sold along with the reliable Boeing 720s/707s and new more efficient Airbus A330s were sought.

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Photo © Bill ARMSTRONG
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Photo © John F. Ciesla

In 1965 Aer Lingus’ first BAC 1-11 aircraft was delivered under the name of St. Mel, the aircraft was to become a workhorse of the fleet spending over 26 years in service with the company. 1966 saw the arrival of nine Viscounts from KLM, retiring the Fokker friendship fleet. The carrier’s inflight magazine, Cara, was launched on the 4th of January, 1968 and the magazine is still in use today with the airline. In 1969, continuing their trend of Boeing aircraft, the airline purchased it’s first Boeing 737 - St. Jarlath.

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Photo © Johan Ljungdahl

Aer Lingus operated its first Boeing 747 flight on the 5th of April, 1971 to New York from Dublin via Shannon. The first female pilot was selected in 1977. Grainne Cronin from Malahide, Co. Dublin was just 22 when she joined Aer Lingus as a pilot. She had previously worked for the airline as a stewardess. In 1978 the first seven stewards began work for the company.

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Photo © Stephen Doyle

During the early 1980’s a small airline called Avair began services in direct competition with the national carrier. A new subsidiary was set up in order to compete with Avair. Aer Lingus Commuter acquired some Shorts SD-360’s, Avair could not compete with the powerful brand of Aer Lingus and so began its demise. Aer Lingus Commuter was indeed a special part of this carrier, taking root in the hearts of the Irish people. Over the decades, Shorts 360s, Fokker 50s, SAAB 340s and BAe 146s have graced many a regional airport on the emerald isle. The brand grew and became a national symbol to the people.

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Photo © Art Brett
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Photo © Ron Vale

During 2000 Aer Lingus lost the coveted Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes to a new company grown in the Arann Islands off the west coast - Aer Arann. These routes are subsidized by the Irish government as they are a necessity to the people. The company used Shorts 360 and ATR 42 aircraft to operate routes from Dublin to: Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Knock, and Sligo. With this Aer Lingus disposed of their entire Fokker 50 fleet and adopted a more international role in the industry leaving the majority of the regional routes to Aer Arann.

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Photo © Christian Hanuise

May 1989 saw Aer Lingus take a 25% holding in a new charter company based in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The company was called “Compañia Hispano Irlandesa de Aviacion”, literally translated as Hispanic Irish Aviation Company or as it became more commonly known - Futura. This share was later increased to 85%, but the company’s links with Aer Lingus remain in doubt with the current crisis facing the carrier. In 1990 another charter venture was invested in by Aer Lingus. This time it was new Turkish start-up - Pegasus. The company was sold by Aer Lingus in 1994 to Yapi Kredi Bank. Aer Lingus was always present itself in the Irish Charter Industry but it was their holdings in these two companies that increased the presence of Aer Lingus in the lives of everyday people, people who would defend the company against the media in its time of need.

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Photo © Ariel Shocron

Over the company’s long history it has embarked on lots of ancillary services. The airline always had a strong presence on the maintenance front but in 1989 its future role was examined and a separate subsidiary - TEAM Aer Lingus was initiated. Aer Lingus has trained many pilots and other staff for different countries around the world including: China, Guinea, Iraq, Libya, Namibia, Nigeria, and Sudan. In fact, the company was chosen by the government of Guinea to help set up their national airline - Air Guinea. The Aer Lingus shamrock has proudly flown on many exciting charters to places like Russia and even Australia. Aer Lingus has also been involved in ground handling not alone in Ireland but in the UK as well. In 1973 they took over ground handling from Albany handling in London Heathrow for companies such as Air India and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). Aer Lingus also flww Pope John Paul II to Ireland on his Papal visit of 1979 on a Boeing 747 renamed St. Patrick for the occasion. They even have flown important historical artifacts to America. The airline was chosen to fly The Book of Kells, The Ardagh Chalice, and The Tara Brooch to New York for an exhibition.

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Photo © Frank Schaefer

The early 1990’s presented a crisis similar to the one faced by Aer Lingus today. In 1990, profits dropped by 7% and difficulties developed at the Aer Lingus Holidays subsidiary. A possible merger was discussed between Aer Lingus and Ryanair but these amounted to nothing. In 1991 a recovery plan was launched my the management team featuring the disposal of some aircraft and staff cost reductions, yet again the company’s profits were down, this time by over IR£33 million. In 1992 the losses continued with the company announcing group losses of over IR£11 million. In 1993 Mr. Bernie Cahill was appointed chairman of the board. Mr. Cahill put forward a plan in which the government would provide further investment of IR£175 million for the ailing company. This was accepted by the EU and by the staff. Some of the company’s assets such as hotels and a computer company were sold off and the uneconomical Boeing 747’s were swapped for state of the art Airbus A330s. In 1995 the company were relieved to announce profits of IR£15 million. Sadly Mr. Cahill died tragically during 2001, adding to the group’s amounting problems.

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Photo © Sunil Gupta
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Photo © Joe Pries

Aer Lingus’ current identity was developed in February of 1996. Gunter Endres (author of Airline Liveries) described it wonderfully as: “A reworked shamrock with more fluid and natural lines on the tail fin and softer colours of three shades of green, a petrol blue and a grey, covering the upper part of a crisp white fuselage.” He went on to add: “This is said to evoke a lush and verdant landscape, interspersed with clean lakes and rivers and over laden with mist laden skies.” Designed by Luxon Carra, the new identity featured a literary theme using quotes from famous playwrights and writers on airline items including the seat fabrics and ticket jackets as well as many other Aer Lingus branded items. This new image was set to carry the company proudly into the 21st century.

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Photo © Jason Taperell

If Aer Lingus learns nothing from its current crises at least they will know that they have the backing of the Irish people. After September 11th, countless numbers of people from every background, from all over the country, and of all ages claimed Aer Lingus to be a national symbol, a necessity to the survival of the economy and a source of great pride. The fact that it was our airline seemed to prevail throughout many opinions and the thought of it being closed down sickened many. Overlooked was the profitability factor and the viability of the airline’s operations, instead it was thought of more as a symbol of our independence and a symbol for us, as is the shamrock, the harp, the green pastures and the pint of Guinness!

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Photo © Martin O'Connell

Modern day Aer Lingus should be thriving with an extremely young fleet of the latest airbus products, the A320, A321, and A330. Aer Lingus is still renowned for its inflight service although some say it has deteriorated of late. Premier Class proves to be popular with business people particularly on transatlantic services. A new CEO was appointed late last year - William Walsh. With his arrival several ‘leisure destinations’ have been added to the company portfolio including: Alicante, Faro, Malaga, and Nice. A new advertisement campaign has been recently launched promoting online sales on AerLingus' website. In June 2000 Aer Lingus joined the Oneworld Alliance. Within the Alliance British Airways, Finnair, and Iberia now operate code shares with Aer Lingus out of Dublin. Joining the alliance is a key step in the future growth of the airline.

“I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.”
- W.B. Yeats.

Little did we know that Yeats could be related to airlines crippled by hard times. The struggle of the years gone by seems like a waste, and strong histories of many airlines such as Swissair and Sabena have disappeared in the blink of an eye. The future seems bleak for airlines unable to adapt to harsh market conditions becoming all too familiar to us. Ironically the title of this poem is: “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”.

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Photo © Martin O'Connell

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Photo © Toby Willis

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Written by
Barry Mulcahy

Barry Mulcahy is a second-level student living in Ireland, with a passion for civil aviation. He intends to go on to study Business and eventually secure a job with an airline. He enjoys writing, sports, and European travels.

22 User Comments:
Username: Luzezito [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-06 19:38:04 and read 32768 times.

Great article and packed with interesting information and data. How many times have I flown futura not knowing that it is owned by Aer Lingus!

Username: Catfan [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-07 04:12:19 and read 32768 times.

I enjoyed my flights on Aer Lingus last year. The service was great and the A333 seemed to be well taken care of. I hope to take another trip to Ireland some time in the future. The whole experience of Aer Lingus and Ireland was great!

Username: Briboy [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-07 13:59:28 and read 32768 times.

Just an _OK_ article. I found the talk of "the hearts of the Irish people" rather distracting though. I did not feel I learned very much from this article.

Username: Eireman [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-08 08:26:15 and read 32768 times.

Great article. Best of luck for the future

Don't forget American Airlines also code shares with EI ex DUB to JFK, ORD, BOS and LAX

Username: DCA-ROCguy [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-08 15:48:47 and read 32768 times.

What role does Shannon Airport play in Aer Lingus's economic difficulties? Aviation Week, I think it was, reported in the 1990's that the airline flatly told the Irish government that it could not replace it's overlarge 747's with more right-sized and economical A330's unless Dublin dropped the requirement that all transatlantic flights stop in Shannon. The government gave them the compromise that stands today--50 percent of flights instead of all of them, must land at SNN.

Airlines operate on a very narrow margin of profitability, and they should not be used as welfare programs. If Dublin wants Aer Lingus to prosper, one step would be to elminiate the SNN landing requirement altogether for transatlantic flights. Ireland might also find that it could win more service from US carriers if it dropped that requirement. EI's membership in Oneworld would probably put it in a very competitive position, in such a situation.


Username: Mls515 [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-08 22:10:05 and read 32768 times.

This was an OK article, like Briboy said. I did learn new things about Aer Lingus, but the article has problems with continuity and transition. Basically, it jumps around without following any sort of order, especially while talking about the fleet makeup through the different time periods.

I'm not any sort of aviation historian, but I felt the article could have mentioned more about the Shannon stopover rule (as mentioned by DCA-ROCguy) as well as Ryanair.


Username: Chazzerguy [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-09 13:27:45 and read 32768 times.

One of the saddest yet most profound photos on Airliners.net is this one:

Maybe it would have been appropriate to add it to this article given the murky outlook for AL.

Interesting article... I never have flown AL, and really didn't know much about it, although I must disagree with Barry's enthusiasm over the current livery... I personally think it's not very attractive.

Username: Chazzerguy [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-09 13:29:29 and read 32768 times.

Sorry, the photo showed up in "preview" mode, but not when I posted it... It was photo #148851.

Username: AMSMAN [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-10 08:38:51 and read 32768 times.

I must hand it to you Barry - Very well done! Ive actually learn't alot here that I didnt know and would have probably laughed at you if you told me!!!!

Keep up the good work man!!


Username: Ts-ior [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-11 12:20:20 and read 32768 times.

Aer Lingus used to schedule a BAC 1-11 to Tunis,but now it only operates charters to Monastir !!!

The first time i got in "touch" with the Irish airline was in the early 80s on an Exxon air survey.I was really impressed by the livery of the airline and especially the photos of Dublin satellite with 747s around !!!

Now EI livery remains one of my favourite especially on the A330 !!!

It is a pity how the airline is facing troubles,but i am sure it won't follow SN and SR !!!

Anyway...an ATC is not one without a Shamerock !!!

Username: Spotterboy [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-11 22:56:15 and read 32768 times.

Hi man.

I can only say, " Aer Lingus is an airline with a big history and have yet a very excellent service. I could explore this a few times , when I got into this nice looking , green planes. ( for ex. LGW-SNN or DUS-DUB ) . After its long time of existing , >EI< has still excellent service , always pleasant f/a´s and a modern fleet."

Congratulations for your good report and I hope , that the green planes stayed also in the future at the airports of the world.

bye , Spotterb.

Username: SunCEO [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-12 22:52:17 and read 32768 times.

Thankyou all for your comments!

Constructive criticism is always welcomed.

The Aer Lingus livery is very much a matter of opinion. Personally I hated it before I saw an aer lingus aircraft in front of me then really liked it!

Yes Futura are a subsidiary but I do not like them very much.

The Shannon stop over has bothe hindered and helped Aer Lingus at times in my Opinion but I don't have any figures. Aer Lingus could also pick up passengers in Shannon boosting its load factor

Thankyou all for your emails aswell!!!


Username: AidanHegarty [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-15 04:11:16 and read 32768 times.

I cannot help but to think that the 'Shannon question' is cruical to the financial future of Aer Lingus. Living in Scotland, I have seen how direct transatlantic traffic has expanded (notwithstanding the shocking events of Sept 11th) since the authorites here abandoned the outdated 'Gateway Prestwick' philosophy. Yes there may be very good socio-economic reasons for Shannon's quasi-protected status, but to use a (British) theatrical expression, it's a case of bums on seats. What incentive is there for anyone to buy the Aer Lingus brand when travelling to/from the US if half the flights have to make what may appear to the average traveller a needless extra stop? I would also be very interested to know what extra costs are incurred by the airline for each Shannon stop, namely extra fuel, handling etc, and how much of these costs are off-set by revenue of passengers/cargo utilising Shannon as an arrival/departure point.

Username: Greenjet [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-16 10:57:51 and read 32768 times.

Nice article. However, Aer Lingus did not operate the ATR 42 on their PSO routes - just the Shorts 360, Fokker 50 and Saab 340. I think you omitted the last one. Apart from that it was detailed and informative.

Username: SunCEO [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-17 20:19:39 and read 32768 times.


Aer Arann used the ATR 42 not EI, and the S340 was mentioned in passing!

Thanks for your comments,

p.s. Aidan I am not really that up on the stopover info, maybe someone else has a few figures???

Username: Greenjet [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-20 16:53:36 and read 32768 times.

Oops. Sorry, I've re-read the article and realised my mistake.

Username: Squigee [User Info]
Posted 2002-07-26 20:06:28 and read 32768 times.

The article was indeed "OK" but really, Aer Lingus is really just an airline. Every airline in the world has a history behind it, and people who are proud of it. Don't confuse nationalistic pride as actual reason for this airline to be considered "sublime"

Username: Ger Lawlor [User Info]
Posted 2002-08-04 12:50:09 and read 32768 times.

Barry, Thanks for posting the article..I found it interesting. My concern is for the future of Aer Lingus...it can't be all things to all people in the harsh economics now in in the world. Government assistance or else standing fully on its own profit wise are the only ways forward. I have flown Aer Lingus fairly often & have found mixed results. The last time was in Oct 01 from LA & this service was fine.
I'm originally from Limerick so the Shannon stopover would be close to my heart. As someone said in response, it has both helped & hindered the airline & this is correct. I haven't got the answer on this.

Thanks for the article & good luck to you in the future

Username: SunCEO [User Info]
Posted 2002-08-11 21:34:49 and read 32768 times.

Hi Ger!

Thanks for the kind words.

I would agree that the future is uncertain for Aer Lingus but it looks more promising than it did last year. Willie Walshe is a ruthless CEO and he is helping the company. Cuts can be seen all over the place for example I recently picked up a timetable in the airport which is 1/20th of the original size. All the new routes are aimed at the leisure market casting aside the business traveller and looking for new customs.

Kind Regards,
Barry Mulcahy.

Username: Teahan [User Info]
Posted 2002-08-14 23:01:01 and read 32768 times.


Thanks for that very interesting article. Certainly summed up Aer Lingus very well!


Username: Rw774477 [User Info]
Posted 2003-01-22 14:45:31 and read 32768 times.

"In latter years the aircraft were sold along with the reliable Boeing 720s/707s"

This looks like the 707s were sold at the same time as the 747s. This is not true since the 707s were out of service long before the A330 were introduced.

Also I'm sure the SNN stopover has cost a bunch in maintenance since the cycles on the aircraft were effectively twice what the should be for the hours accumulated.

Username: Jcamilo [User Info]
Posted 2009-08-31 22:47:43 and read 32768 times.

really good!! but KLM and AVIANCA are first over world!!!

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