Ireland Airways is close to finalising a lease deal with Aero International (Regional) (AI(R)) for three new British Aerospace ATP aircraft to enable it to expand its Irish domestic services.

The airline, a spin-off of Dublin-based freight carrier EI Air Exports, began scheduled services in 1996, when it introduced a daily scheduled service from the Irish capital to Donegal with a Shorts 330 (Flight International, 28 August-3 September).

Ireland Airways' managing director Ruadhan Neeson says that, from 1 April, the airline will take over the Dublin-Sligo route from Aer Lingus, now operated by a Fokker 50. "We are negotiating with AI(R) for the lease of up to three of the last ATPs built," says Neeson. He adds that "-we will have two 68-seat ATPs for our summer schedule on the Sligo route [one for back-up]".

He also says that the Donegal route will be upgraded to a Shorts 360 for the summer .

Neeson says that the third ATP is to be in service by mid-1998, but that the decision on expansion is dependent upon the receipt of new route licences, which will become available from January 1998. "We are waiting to see if we get the licences for the [existing Aer Lingus] routes from Dublin to Galway and Kerry," says Neeson.

"With Aer Lingus' increasing focus on international operations, our mission is to fill the 'domestic gap'," he continues.

With the airline's freight connections, Neeson says that consideration had been given to operating the ATP in the cargo role, but it decided that it was prohibitively expensive for its needs.

"On paper, it would make a good freighter," says Neeson. "With its 8t payload, it would fill the gap left by the [Vickers] Viscount".

British Aerospace Asset Management Turboprops (AMT) says that it is keen to talk to customers who wish to equip the ATP with a rear cargo door. The door design has been completed, and AMT does not envisage that the ATP head lessors would object to aircraft being modified.

The ATPs for Ireland Airways are among five aircraft completed by Jetstream at Prestwick during the course of 1992/3, but which were never delivered.

Source: Flight International