INSIGHT: Is Aer Lingus set to return transatlantic flights to Hartford?

If the speculation is true, Aer Lingus will be the only airline offering a direct flight between Europe and Hartford Bradley International Airport, branded as the ‘Gateway to New England’. In fact the airline will be the sole carrier to serve the facility from outside North America with existing links limited to just domestic services in the US and flights into Canada.

There is increasing speculation that Irish national carrier, Aer Lingus will further grow its transatlantic network in 2016 with at least two new long-haul links from Dublin to North America, and an announcement is expected as early as next week. A number of destinations are known to be under consideration, including Los Angeles, Miami and Newark, but it is understood that Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut is among the forerunners for selection.

Our own analysis identifies that Aer Lingus will likely introduce two new long-haul flights from its Dublin Airport hub and these will operate on the ‘EI132’ and ‘EI144’ flight numbers. Industry sources suggest that Los Angeles will be one of the new destinations, but reports also suggest that Hartford could be the second, which would certainly surprise many in the business.

If the speculation is true, Aer Lingus will be the only airline offering a direct flight between Europe and Bradley International Airport, branded as the ‘Gateway to New England’. In fact the airline will be the sole carrier to serve the facility from outside North America with existing links limited to just domestic services in the US and flights into Canada.

However, Aer Lingus will not be the first to offer transatlantic service from Bradley International. Northwest Airlines introduced a non-stop link to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in July 2007 using a Boeing 757-200 and occasionally larger 757-300s, but the link was suspended in September 2008, due to rising fuel costs and a fall in demand.

Securing a non-stop flight back into Europe has been the airport’s top priority since then and in April this year Connecticut state governor Dan Malloy proposed that five million dollars be budgeted as a subsidy/revenue guarantee to entice a European carrier to come into Hartford. Aer Lingus was at the time identified as the top prospect, perhaps due to the fact Governor Malloy is of Irish descent and often wears green ties to pay homage to this fact.

The five million dollars didn’t make it into the final state budget in the last legislative session, given the opposition to “corporate welfare” at a time when the state faces big deficits. However, in June this year the governor’s office issued a statement that they were working on the issue and looking for other revenue sources to support the return of transatlantic services.

Our analysis identifies that it is unlikely that Aer Lingus would commit to such a small market unless there are significant route subsidies on offer to make such a business case sustainable. Hartford is about half way between Boston and New York, destinations both served by Aer Lingus already.

Data shows the Dublin-Hartford market is less than 1,000 passengers a year, and the entire market to Europe from Hartford is only 47 passengers per day each way. Bradley International is also not a hub airport, and the majority of its current flight schedule is to larger US cities that have their own non-stop flights to Europe. This means that there will be minimal connectivity beyond the airport.

Until Aer Lingus confirms its growth plans, all talk about the route remains conjecture. However, the office of Connecticut Governor, Dannel Malloy has made comment lending credence to the idea that an announcement is imminent. "We have fought aggressively to add a transatlantic flight to Bradley airport. It's our hope that will be a reality," a spokesman told the US media.

It has also been reported that low-cost, long-haul carrier Norwegian is interested in serving Bradley International, which analysts believe would be a more logical fit for the market. One newspaper cites an airline official as stating it was "highly likely" to begin offering budget non-stop flights between Bradley International Airport and European cities in 2017, most likely using its new 737MAX airliners.


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