Aer Lingus Regional services could be back in the air by October with final contracts to be signed soon with Emerald Airlines (Ireland) (EAI), the startup which won the tender to run the franchise, reports the Irish Independent newspaper from Dublin.

Financially backed by founder Conor McCarthy and a number of private investors, Emerald Airlines was named the preferred bidder in November 2020 to operate the Aer Lingus Regional franchise, a move which contributed to the collapse of its most recent contractor, Stobart Air (RE, Dublin Int'l).

As reported earlier, McCarthy last month confirmed the nascent carrier had signed a memorandum of understanding with Aer Lingus for a ten-year contract to run the regional franchise from late 2022 until 2032. In the meantime, Aer Lingus and British Airways regional subsidiary BA CityFlyer (CJ, London City) have stepped in to operate the majority of Stobart's former routes until at least the end of August 2021.

Stobart Air – where McCarthy was a non-executive chairman from 2018 to 2019 – also held contracts to operate two public service obligation (PSO) routes, from Dublin Int'l to Donegal and Kerry. The government is fast-tracking a tender to secure an interim operator for those routes for seven months and hopes to announce that operator within weeks, the Independent reported. A competition for a four-year contract for the PSO routes will take place later in the year.

Emerald Airlines was precluded from competing for the seven-month contract as it does not yet have its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC). McCarthy said Emerald hopes to fulfil all the conditions to secure its AOC and its Irish operating license by September 2021. That would enable it to tender for the PSOs as well as when tenders open for the long-term contract.

McCarthy earlier confirmed that Emerald’s first two ATR72-600s – (formerly with Virgin Australia) - are currently undergoing maintenance at Exeter Aerospace in the UK, a company owned by Dublin Aerospace, which he also owns. The fledgling airline has already hired its first dozen pilots and cabin crew, who are undergoing operational conversion courses in Toulouse, he said.

McCarthy said Emerald was in detailed negotiations for four additional aircraft and had been offered 34 options for the final eight that would make up a fleet of 14 by the end of the year.

The company, to date, has hired 40 staff for its Dublin Airport head office, which is currently being fitted out. McCarthy plans to grow the workforce to 400 by the end of 2021.

He said Emerald Airlines was in talks with Dublin, Cork, and Belfast Int'l about establishing operations at those facilities.

Emerald eventually expects to contribute 200,000 passengers a year to Aer Lingus’s transatlantic network out of Dublin, he said.

Passenger traffic at Irish airports was annihilated during the pandemic, while the government has delayed the introduction of the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate until July 19. All other member states introduced it last week.