Aer Lingus Regional’s 1.9 million seats – Emerald to face Stobart for franchise?
New Irish regional carrier Emerald Airlines is believed to be setting up to challenge Stobart Air for the Aer Lingus Regional franchise, which expires in late 2022.
The contract for this franchise will be one of the most coveted prizes for European regional operators in the next couple of years.
Emerald Airlines – not Airways, which was a niche UK operator until 2006 – is the brainchild of Conor McCarthy.
Conor McCarthy has a significant aviation pedigree: he was CEO of Aer Lingus Commuter, co-founder of AirAsia, MD of PlaneConsult, Executive Chairman of Dublin Aerospace, and – until late 2019 – Non-Executive Chairman of Stobart Air.
The latter is crucial. Aer Arann, which later became Stobart Air, began Aer Lingus Regional in 2010 and has held the contract since then.
Amid Stobart Air’s reported financial difficulties and that the Stobart Group trying to sell the unit, Emerald Airlines smells opportunity.
This necessitates a look at Aer Lingus Regional’s network, which had 1.86 million seats in 2019 – broadly flat since 2016.
When combined with Aer Lingus’ own seats, Regional had a 9.9% share of capacity – down from a high of 11% in 2017.
Aer Lingus Regional’s 24 routes – 17 with no direct competition
Aer Lingus Regional had 24 routes in 2019, data from OAG Schedules Analyser shows.
UK seats amounted to 90% of its total. The carrier had just four non-UK services: Dublin to Donegal and Kerry, and Dublin and Cork to Rennes.
With over seven in ten seats, Dublin was by far the regional airline’s top airport. Cork, meanwhile, was second with just under one-quarter.
Across these seven routes, Regional had more dominant frequencies on just three: Bristol, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.
Not coincidentally, these were Aer Lingus Regional’s top-three routes, with 35% of its total seats.
These cuts were offset in 2020 by the launch of a new base at Belfast City with six new routes, all without direct competition: Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leeds Bradford, and Manchester.
These six had over one million passengers when operated by flybe, UK CAA passenger data indicates.
This brought Exeter into Aer Lingus Regional’s network, while East Midlands returned after Dublin ended in 2016.