Government-owned international airline of the Republic of Ireland. Aer Lingus is a member of the oneworld Alliance.
The name Aer Lingus originated from the Gaelic term aer loingeas, which means “air fleet.” The first Aer Lingus flight took place on May 27, 1936, when a De Havilland 84 took off on a flight to Bristol, England, from Dublin’s old Baldonnel airfield. Beginning in 1946, operations were divided between Aer Lingus Teoranta for regional and European activities and an associate company, Aerlinte Eireann, for international flights.
In 1938, Aer Lingus relocated to Dublin’s new airport at Collinstown. The company grew steadily, and flight operations continued during World War II, with scheduled flights between Dublin and Liverpool and the Isle of Man. After the war, Aer Lingus’s expansion accelerated, and service was initiated to London and Paris. Transatlantic flights to New York were attempted in 1947, but the Irish government soon decided to cancel these flights due to the high costs of operation. In the 1950’s, Aer Lingus expanded its network to various European destinations. In 1958, the flights to New York resumed and by the early 1960’s, the company started service to Boston and Canada.
During the late 1970’s and 1980’s, Aer Lingus found itself in the middle of a crisis. To remain competitive in the changing marketplace, the company was forced to initiate a major reorganization, to abandon numerous overseas destinations, to reduce its air fleet, and to close several of its international sales offices. However, the airline continued to grow regionally. In 1984, a subsidiary, Aer Lingus Commuter, was created to serve the shorter routes. In the 1990’s, Aer Lingus reestablished itself as a leaner and more competitive carrier. Several of the routes that had previously been eliminated were reinstated, and flights to Chicago, Newark, Los Angeles, and several continental destinations were added to the airline’s schedule.
The first Aer Lingus aircraft was a six-seat De Havilland 84 Dragon biplane, which entered service in May, 1936. Operating initially with different versions of the DH-84 and DH-89, the airline added two Lockheed 14 and two Douglas DC-3 aircraft to its fleet in 1939. However, after acquiring seven Vickers Vikings in 1947 for continental services, the company decided to make the switch to more reliable DC-3 aircraft.
In 1954, Aer Lingus took delivery of its first jet-prop aircraft, the Vickers Viscount 707. Fokker F-27’s were added in 1958. During the same period, Aer Lingus was leasing Super Constellations for the service to New York, but these aircraft were soon replaced when company management decided to purchase its first real jets: the B-720. Later that decade, B-707’s were introduced on the transatlantic routes and BAC 1-11’s on the continental routes. The company continued to change its fleet mix to become more efficient. In the 1970’s, Aer Lingus introduced the B-747 to its fleet and purchased several B-737 aircraft. The following decade, Aer Lingus Commuter entered service with Irish-made Shorts 330/360 aircraft. However, by the late 1990’s, the company was operating British Aerospace BA-146’s and Fokker 50’s on many of its routes. Also, several older, midrange aircraft were replaced with more modern Airbus A321 equipment. In 1995, Aer Lingus retired all its B-747’s and decided to lease Airbus A330 aircraft to serve the transatlantic routes. By 2000, the Aer Lingus fleet, serving both Europe and the United States, consisted of about forty aircraft, among which were fifteen European Airbuses, thirteen B-737’s, and twelve regional jets. Overall fleet modernization continued well into the new millennium, as new continental destinations were added to the flight schedule.
Early hull losses at Aer Lingus were significant. Between 1947 and 1952, the carrier lost two DC-3 aircraft in crashes. Twenty-three people died in a 1952 accident at Gwynynt Lake, England. Three more airplanes, Vickers Viscount aircraft, were destroyed during the period from 1967 to 1968. Sixty-one people died in the accident that occurred in Wexford Harbor, Ireland, in 1968. After the 1968 disaster, however, Aer Lingus’s safety record improved significantly. For the period from 1969 to 2000, no mishaps were reported.
From its inception, Aer Lingus was managed as two separate companies. In the mid-1970’s, Aer Lingus Teoranta and Aerlinte Eireann completely merged all operations under the umbrella of Aer Lingus, and the parent company adopted its distinctive shamrock logo. During that same period, Aer Lingus, like many other airlines, decided to diversify. The company acquired a major stake in the Irish Intercontinental Hotels, invested in engineering firms and aircraft brokerage companies, and actively developed its own air-charter business.
During the challenging 1980’s, Aer Lingus’s company management scaled back its previous ventures, eliminating many to focus on the airline’s core business. During this period, Ryanair, a new low-cost Irish carrier, became a major competitor for Aer Lingus on many of its United Kingdom and continental routes. Aer Lingus struggled through the early 1990’s but got back on track when air traffic rose by 30 percent in the middle of the decade. However, to deal with the market pressures and the rapidly changing global airline environment, Aer Lingus management decided to pursue partnerships with other international carriers. In 2000, Aer Lingus joined the oneworld Alliance, made up of American Airlines, Qantas, British Airways, and many others, allowing the company to extend its global reach as an established international carrier.
Donoghue, J. A. “Timely Turnaround.” Air Transport World, September, 1997, 55-59. An article describing several business successes at Aer Lingus during the second half of the 1990’s and praising new management for turning around the company’s fortunes. Hengi, B. I. Airlines Worldwide. 3d ed. Leicester, England: Midland, 2001. An excellent review of essential data of more than 350 airlines worldwide, with an overview of the different aircraft fleets. Share, Bernard. The Flight of the Iolar: The Aer Lingus Experience, 1936-1986. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1986. A historical overview, full of anecdotes and personal recollections, authored by one of the editors of the Aer Lingus company magazine.