The possibility of a conflict of interest for the outgoing management team at Aer Lingus has caused the Irish government to ask the trio - chief executive Willie Walsh, chief financial officer Brian Dunne and chief operations officer Seamus Kearney - to leave the airline several months early.

Following intense speculation in the Irish media that Walsh, possibly joined by his two colleagues, was involved with setting up a Dublin-based long-haul, low-fares carrier, transport minister Martin Cullen said in a statement: "A conflict of interest cannot, should not and will not be allowed to arise between their current roles at Aer Lingus and their future career intentions." Aer Lingus chairman John Sharman says talks with all three executives meant he was "assured" that there was no conflict, but to avoid any potential one later all three would be leaving the carrier.

Walsh, Dunne and Kearney, the core team that has taken Aer Lingus from a heavily loss-making state-owned carrier to a profitable low-fare operation, resigned from Aer Lingus in mid-November. Although there was no falling out with the government, Walsh and his team wanted to continue with aggressive growth and restructuring at the carrier whereas the government was less enthusiastic.

With all three leaving by late January, Aer Lingus has put in place a transition team to lead the carrier while a new chief executive is sought by the Dublin-office of headhunter KPMG. This team is made up of existing human resources director Liz White, former company secretary Neil Walsh as chief operating officer, Greg O'Sullivan as its new company secretary and head of finance, Brian Wheatley as head of group treasury and Dick Butler as head of operations.

Walsh has not been short of offers from around the globe following his resignation, but has remained tight-lipped about his next move. But he is a fan of the long-haul, low-fares concept, as he told the Airline Business Future of Air Travel conference just a week before his resignation: "It is something that is definitely going to happen."

Aer Lingus itself has been quick to restructure its long-haul operations, extending its fare restructuring with lower prices and the removal of restrictions to its transatlantic services.

Source: Airline Business