Emerald Airlines 'could take on Belfast regional routes from January'

Kelvin Boyes
Gary McDonald Business Editor

DUBLIN-based Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus’ new subsidiary Emerald Airlines could begin serving regional routes including Belfast from as soon as next January - a full year ahead of schedule.

Brainchild of aviation industry veteran Conor McCarthy, Emerald is the new regional carrier for Aer Lingus, taking on the contract formerly held by Stobart Air, which collapsed in June.

Emerald has secured a franchise that will run until 2032, and it has already signed up for the first of 15 ATR 72-600s specialist short-haul aircraft which will operate from Dublin, Belfast, Shannon and Cork.

And while it was initially expected that the subsidiary would take to the skies from in 2023, an Irish Times report suggests the launch will now be brought forward by a year to this coming January.

Aer Lingus has been in talks with Emerald since late last year on taking over the Aer Lingus regional contract from Stobart Air, which originally had the contract until December 2022.

Stobart's collapse threw a question mark over what would happen to the network between now and when Emerald was originally due to take over in January 2023.

But Aer Lingus chief executive Lynne Embleton said negotiations with Emerald were “progressing well and are close to a conclusion”, and it has emerged that Mr McCarthy’s operation may begin flying regional routes for its new partner from next January.

Customers at Belfast City Airport - from where Aer Lingus continues to use its own aircraft to operate routes vacated by the collapse of Stobart Air - are unlikely to see any noticeable different to bookings.

Twelve routes in total at Belfast City and Dublin airports were affected when Stobart went into liquidation.

Stobart previously operated 30 regional routes between Ireland and the UK, but it got into trouble when passenger numbers declined significantly during the pandemic.

Aer Lingus has been using its own planes to operate Belfast City flights to Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh while BA City Flyer is now operating the routes to Exeter and Leeds Bradford.

Ms Embleton had said it was not viable for either Aer Lingus or BA to fly the Belfast and Dublin routes in the longer term.

Emerald is understood to be going through the final stages of getting its air operators’ certificate from the Irish Aviation Authority, the regulator responsible for safety and air navigation.

Conor McCarthy is well known in Irish aviation, having began his career as an apprentice with Aer Lingus, from where he rose to become chief executive of its commuter service.

He then worked for Ryanair before setting up his own consultancy, and later established Dublin Aerospace, an aircraft maintenance business with bases at Dublin Airport, Ashbourne and Exeter.

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