AER Lingus has announced that it is to increase its capacity on the Shannon-Heathrow route by an additional 20%.
The increase will see the airline restore the Airbus 320 to the service, replacing the A319, adding 25,000 seats for the winter season alone.
It will also operate a weekly service to Lanzarote throughout the winter, increasing the size of aircraft on that routing too, increasing the number of seats available by 20%, adding 1,300 extra seats.
Long haul services to Boston will continue through the winter, but the New York service will be suspended from early January to mid-March, recommencing in time for St Patrick’s Day.
“Our 2015 winter programme marks the return of our short haul business to significant growth,” said Aer Lingus director of communications, Declan Kearney. “We’ve added an additional 275,000 seats to our schedule including 25,000 more seats between Shannon Airport and London Heathrow and a further 1,300 between Shannon and Lanzarote.
“We are confident that our investment in additional capacity at Shannon will bring additional tourists to the Western region and will further strengthen the region’s international trade links.”
News of the increase in capacity was broadly welcomed by Shannon Group plc CEO Neil Pakey.
“We have been in communication with Aer Lingus for some time to restore the A320 on the service and are delighted that they have done this,” he said.
“We have 35 destinations across 11 countries this year and this additional capacity on Heathrow is a real early summer season boost for us and our passengers. It endorses Aer Lingus’ commitment to the region and the airport, following on from their expansion of the Shannon Boston service from a 757 to a 767 aircraft from June to September this year.
“The increase in Heathrow capacity will give us an additional 25,000 seats for the winter season on Heathrow and Aer Lingus have also added 1,300 seats on its Lanzarote service,” he added.
The news of the increase in capacity comes as it appears that the sale of Aer Lingus is advancing.
A number of Limerick politicians had vehemently opposed any sale, especially due to concerns over the protection of Heathrow slots from Shannon and any potential impact the sale could have on business in the mid-west region.
However, a Government decision on the sale of the State’s 25.1% stake in Aer Lingus to International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) will have to wait at least until after Friday’s constitutional and by-election votes are out of the way.
IAG says it is willing to pay €1.36 billion for Aer Lingus, once both the State and Ryanair agree to sell their respective stakes, which together amount to 54.9 per cent of the Irish flag carrier.
But Ryanair’s intentions for its stake in Aer Lingus will have to be declared before a Cabinet decision on the sale of the airline can be made. Ryanair owns 29.8pc of its rival carrier.
A plan for future connectivity from Shannon should be presented to Government, before any sale of the State’s stake in Aer Lingus is approved, local politicians have said.
Speaking about the increase in Aer Lingus’ capacity to Heathrow, Neil Pakey said: “We look forward to partnering with Aer Lingus on making the expansion a real success. Heathrow is a hugely important route for this region as Shannon is the only airport on the entire western seaboard with services to Europe’s busiest hub. This extra capacity keeps us on a growth path again this year.”