Aer Lingus to set up base at London’s Gatwick Airport, launch new routes to Munich, Zurich, Vienna and Nice

Saturday, December 20, 2008, 15:25 by Aviation Correspondent

Aer Lingus, the flag-carrier airline of Ireland, is setting up a base at London’s Gatwick Airport and launching routes to Munich, Zurich, Nice and Vienna as well as a few more leisure-focused routes in April 2009.

The London base will be only the second base for Aer Lingus outside Ireland – its first base opened in Belfast, Ireland, in 2007.

The move by Aer Lingus to set up a base at London’s Gatwick Airport, costing £100 million, is seen by aviation analysts as “a rebuff to Ryanair in its long-drawn-out battle to retain its independence.”

(Ryanair, headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, is Europe’s largest low-cost carrier. Its biggest operational base is at London’s Stansted Airport.)

The plan by Aer Lingus, a direct competitor to its low-cost rival Ryanair on the Gatwick to Dublin route, to make its presence and base up to eight aircraft at Gatwick Airport, the second largest airport in the United Kingdom, is expected to be a boost for the British Airports Authority (BAA), which owns Gatwick Airport.

Aer Lingus, based at Dublin Airport, operates services to Europe, Africa and North America. The airline is 29.4% owned by Ryanair and 25.4% owned by the Irish government. Aer Lingus is a former member of the Oneworld airline alliance, which it left on March 31, 2007. It has extensive codeshares with members of Oneworld and SkyTeam airline alliances.

Gatwick Airport is London’s second largest airport and the second busiest in the United Kingdom after Heathrow Airport. Gatwick Airport has been described as the world’s busiest single-runway airport, though it has a standby runway which is used only when the main runway is out of use. Gatwick is located in Crawley, West Sussex (originally Charlwood, Surrey), 28 miles south of London.

Dermot Mannion, chief executive of Aer Lingus, said in a press release: “The Gatwick operation will complement our existing services out of London’s Heathrow Airport and position Aer Lingus for growth as we roll out new routes and bases in future years.”

“Aer Lingus,” Mannion added, “will launch the base with four planes in April 2009, flying to Malaga, Munich, Nice, Vienna, Dublin, Knock, Faro and Zurich with some return fares costing £29.99, including taxes.”

Ryanair’s destinations from London’s Gatwick Airport include Cork, Shannon, Düsseldorf-Weeze and Alicante.

The location of Aer Lingus’ bases has been the subject of much controversy in Ireland recently. Aer Lingus had raised a political ruckus in the Irish Republic in 2007 when it switched its Heathrow to Shannon service to Belfast International Airport.

The board of directors of Aer Lingus had recently rejected a renewed takeover attempt from Ryanair, valuing the business at €1.40 per share, or €747.5 million (£700 million), about half what Ryanair offered two years ago.

In November 2008, Aer Lingus had said that it expected operating losses to the tune of €20 million in 2008 and €70 million in 2009. However, aviation analysts say that Aer Lingus is expected to revise its 2009 forecasts by the end of December 2008 in view of the declining prices of oil.

Ryanair has already criticised Aer Lingus’ performance, with Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, accusing Aer Lingus of “issuing apparently contradictory claims and forecasts” and demanding clarification of Aer Lingus’ net cash position.