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Aer Lingus Teoranta first took to the air in 1936, and was the first national airline of Ireland. Today, with privatisation a reality for the airline, and its future uncertain, we take a look back to the glory days of Aer Lingus, its hard times and how the shamrock may appear in the future…
The Golden Age
Looking at Aer Lingus now, it is hard to believe that the Irish airline that is now in its 70th year of operations once relied on the use of Baldonnel aerodrome and operated a sole DeHavilland 84 Dragon with a passenger capacity of a mere 14 persons. It was called IOLAR (Eagle).
A lot of different factors led the government to consider an national airline as being an important economic factor of an island free state, and it is still debated by many whether or not they took Iona National Airways (a private venture operating 1930-1995) as an example in early years; on how an airline could properly operation such an enclosed, and generally low demand market of aviation.
None the less, and to great public acclaim, it was decided that to form such an airline; to be called Aer Lingus (Air Fleet “Aer Loingeas”) and so, the airline was registered on the 22nd May 1936. To assist in the government’s involvement in aviation, and to produce a contusive atmosphere for the promotion of commercial aviation in Ireland, Aer Rianta, a state company was established in 1937(and operated until the early 2000’s when replaced by individual state departments and companies). All this investment and infrastructure development did pay off however, and in 1938 the decision was taken to purchase a de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide, followed by two Lockheed L14s, which at the time would have been a major step up for an airline such as Air Lingus, who had finally managed to secure “all-metal” aircraft.
Baldonnel soon became stressed by Aer Lingus’ new busy schedule, and the government sought new alternatives for an airport. A few options were put forward, including Kildonan Aerodrome and Collinstown (A disused pre-civil war RAF Aerodrome, which had effectively been returned to pasturing land during the previous twenty years or so). The government of the day saw clear opportunities in Collinstown, and since it infringed much less on possible future development in the Fingal area than other options, it was chosen, and was officially opened in January 1940. In the coming years, the airport would grow gradually, with the old terminal winning several architectural awards including the Triennial Gold Medal of the Royal Hibernian Institute of Architects. Without doubt, the government’s involvement in Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta and a general strategy for success allowed Collinstown to become DUB INTL.
On the 9th November 1945 regular services in peaceful skies resumed, commemorating this event, all planes from henceforth would be painted Green and Silver (and/or white). Flight Attendants were also introduced to the airline for the first time. On the spur of an Anglo-Irish open skies agreement in 1946, Lingus bought seven new Vickers Vikings to service their fleet, however these were quickly shifted once they were found to be an economical disaster to the airline! In 1947 a new branch of Aer Lingus was set up, Aerlínte Éireann which severed a new transatlantic route between Ireland and New York. It was decided that three new Lockheed Constellations would be purchased to service this route. Unfortunately, a financial miss calculation in the airline forced these operations to be cancelled before services commenced. The aircraft were sold on directly to BOAC.
In 1958 a major event occured for the first time for an Irish owned aviation company, the first Trans-Atlantic flight was made by Aer Lingus on the 28th of April. This service, unlike the original planned in 1947, were operated by wet lease aircraft – again Lockheed Constellations. With the success of Aerlínte Éireann, on the 1st January 1960, the branch was incorporated into Aer Lingus, and henceforth carried the name “Aer Lingus – Irish International Airlines”. It was decided later that year on the 14th December 1960, a new type of aircraft would enter service, it was the Boeing 720, of which three were delivered, the first three airliner jet aircraft on the Irish register.
Flying Car Ferries
In 1963, what, if not a European aircraft, could have been described as a novell Irish idea, came into being. Aer Lingus purchased Cavairs to service the growing demand for car ferries, not only in the water, but also in the air. Looking back now, but certainly not at the time, not surprisingly, it was a major economic mistake, however, now as a major player on the transatlantic routes, Aer Lingus continued to thrive, and the Boeing 720’s were assisted by the purchase of the much larger Boeing 707’s in 1964.
During this time a new route from Belfast to New York was inaugurated, however because of The Troubles, it was suspended, this service was not re-introduced until the late 1990’s when tensions somewhat had calmed and tourism again allowed for the route to be profitable. In 1965, to keep up with competitors it was decided to purchase jet BAC 1-11’s to serve the airlines European routes. It is a common misconception to this day that Aer Lingus were necessarily a “behind” airline, infact, even if not always a financial success, the airline was nearly always ultra modern from the 1950’s onwards, as was seen in 1969 when Lingus purchased Boeing 737 craft, which in many ways, were still fighting to gain a foothold on the market for short-medium range craft. None the less, the B737 was a loyal craft type, and until the early 2000’s many younger craft served until the complete changeover to Airbus.
747's & Aer Lingus Commuter
Perhaps the most iconic image of Aer Lingus, if not certainly the proudest moment for many involved in Aer Lingus, was seeing in 1970, the delivery of the two Boeing 747 which operated for many years in high profitability, even if admirably slightly dwarfing the runway facilities at Dublin
Collinstown Airport for many years! Soon a third was needed, but the airline soon found that it was better to fill planes than to suffer financial loses for operating under capacity, so it was leased out for the most of its service life with Lingus. The 747’s were also the first craft to also the first craft to carry the Green, Blue, White & Shamrock design, which again has become iconic and has evolved into the Green/White & Shamrock design seen today. Again, during this period of Irish aviation, another great event occurred for Ireland. Pope John Paul II arrived into Ireland on a modified 747, of course, for purposes of Irish hospitality, it was an Aer Lingus aircraft, and he was escorted in, by the classic “Cross” formation, preformed by the Irish Air Corps Fouga’s. The aircraft (EI-ASI) was very appropriately named “St Patrick”.
In 1984, Aer Lingus Commuter was established to serve regional airports in Ireland, as well as a few domestic routes. At first Shorts 360’s were used, but soon these were replaced by Fokker 50’s and in 1991, Saab 340B’s for additional capacity. Although these routes were never particularly profitable, they did allow for an expansion of tourism along the west coast, and developed the market for other airlines, such as Aer Arann to find more efficient ways to operate the routes. During this same period, Lingus decided to take part in a complete upgrade of their Boeing fleet to the 737-3/4/500’s, making it the first airline to operate a complete new type range of 737’s in the world. On October 2, 1995, the Boeing 747 was finally phased out, in place of the new Airbus A330, of which, seven now serve, and a further two are on order in November 2006.
70 Years On
As Aer Lingus crosses the 70-year mark, the airline has seen much reform. Dermot Mannion, the chairman of the airline has helped to expand routes into Asia, and with the help of his predecessor, Willie Walsh, has successfully reclaimed a foot holding on the European market for aviation.
However, the Irish Government decided the only truly viable future for the airline was to privatise it, and therefore selling off the last successful national airline in Europe into private hands. However a 41% staff and government share would be held in the airline. It still has yet to be seen what exactly the end result of the privatisation will be, but Ryanair has the most significant bid outside of the main shareholding, so possibly we could be seeing a harp on the A3’s some day…
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