herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Aer Lingus should spread its wings to Japan and China, says Willie Walsh

Willie Walsh
Willie Walsh

INTERNATIONAL Airlines Group boss Willie Walsh sees opportunities for Aer Lingus in destinations like India, Japan and China.

Mr Walsh, who secured agreement from the Cabinet this week to buy-out the State's stake in Aer Lingus, said negotiations were "a bit heated at times" and had come close to collapse.

But he claimed being Irish helped, as he said there were people on the IAG board who "struggled to understand what was going on".

Announcing the €335m sale of the State's 25.1pc shareholding last week, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe insisted it was the best deal on offer for the country and will result in 635 net jobs in five years.

IAG plans to pay €2.50 in cash for each Aer Lingus share and is also factoring in a five-cent-per-share dividend

In an interview with The Sunday Business Post, Mr Walsh said IAG wanted staff in Aer Lingus to be excited about the deal, and insisted it was for the long-term.

As well as expanded transatlantic routes, he said there were opportunities for the airline in Asian destinations.

"You'd start with India, Japan and China," he said. "I think China could be a real opportunity as Ireland has real trade links with China. Our experience with BA in China is that it is a slow burn and takes a long time."

Lucky

Mr Walsh said he thought he understood the politics of the situation in Ireland and he believed the Government would see it as a good proposal.

"Maybe I misjudged the sensitivity of where the coalition government was at the time, but I came to terms with that," he said. "It's lucky that I am Irish. There are people on my board who struggled to understand what was going on.

"We didn't want to do anything that was going to create political uncertainty."

Mr Walsh said the proposal was being pushed onto the agenda by the IAG team, rather than himself, as he didn't want it to be perceived as "Willie Walsh doing some unfinished business".

He said that to a large degree he adopted a "negative attitude" towards it, challenging others so that they could see for themselves the attractiveness of it as a business proposal.

On the negotiations he said he was personally reluctant to go beyond the five-year commitment on the Heathrow slots.

"There were occasions during the meetings where in effect the negotiations … if they hadn't [actually] collapsed, were very close to it," he said.

"Some of the direct discussions we had were a bit heated at times.

"I've always tried in negotiations, no matter who I negotiate with, to be able to shake hands at the end of it."

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