Aer Lingus (EI, Dublin Int'l) has announced it has entered into a franchise agreement with Emerald Airlines (Ireland) (EAI), which will commence on January 1, 2023, for ten years for the operation of Aer Lingus Regional flights.

Although the contract was not due to commence for 18 months, Aer Lingus would work with Emerald Airlines to facilitate an earlier contract start date, in light of the previous contract-holder, Stobart Air (RE, Dublin Int'l), having ceased operations in June 2021.

Under the agreement, Emerald Airlines will operate Avions de Transport Régional turboprops on regional routes with Aer Lingus branding and livery, Aer Lingus explained in a statement. The start-up will appoint more than 400 staff between now and the commencement of services.

The new franchise agreement would support Aer Lingus’ Dublin hub strategy by connecting UK provincial airports to North America via Dublin. The deal would also boost connectivity between the island of Ireland and regional UK airports, the Isle of Man, and Jersey, with options for network expansion to more regional airports in the future.

Aer Lingus chief executive Lynne Embleton said the partnership would significantly boost the Irish flag carrier’s strategy to develop Dublin Airport as a hub between Europe and the US. “This franchise agreement with Emerald Airlines marks a new chapter in Aer Lingus Regional services and brings choice and certainty to our customers flying between Ireland, the UK, and beyond,” she said.

Emerald Airlines founder and chief executive Conor McCarthy hailed the agreement as a “major development for Irish aviation and the wider tourism industry”. “The combined strengths of both airlines will allow us to offer optimised connectivity from popular cities and routes across Ireland, the UK, and beyond. Emerald Airlines has ambitious plans to grow and develop this partnership over the next few years, with the first ATR aircraft joining shortly. As we add additional aircraft to our fleet, we will be recruiting 400+ new staff members, which is a great boost for the industry that has been so badly impacted by the pandemic,” he added.

Following the unexpected closure of Stobart Air in June, Aer Lingus said it would continue to operate six regional routes until at least the end of March 2022. BA CityFlyer would also operate four additional routes for the rest of Summer 2021.

McCarthy earlier said Emerald hoped to secure its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) and its Irish operating license from the Irish Aviation Authority by September 2021. The company reportedly has taken delivery of two ATR72-600s. McCarthy earlier confirmed the aircraft (formerly with Virgin Australia) – had undergone maintenance at Exeter Aerospace in the UK, a company owned by Dublin Aerospace, which he also owns. He added that 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.