Aer Lingus (EI, Dublin Int'l) has launched a tender for the operation of its Aer Lingus Regional brand ahead of the expiration of its existing contract with Stobart Air (RE, Dublin Int'l) at the end of 2022, the Irish Independent has said.

Former IAG International Airlines Group chief executive Willie Walsh said earlier this year that a number of other airlines had already approached the holding and its Irish subsidiary about the contract.

Aer Lingus did not respond to ch-aviation's request for comment.

According to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module, Stobart Air currently operates one ATR42-600 and twelve ATR72-600s on behalf of Aer Lingus. The smaller turboprop is used on routes from Dublin Int'l to Isle of Man and Donegal, while the larger Avions de Transport Régional aircraft fly to various destinations in Great Britain from Dublin, Cork, Shannon, and Belfast City.

Stobart Air does not operate any other scheduled or charter flights on top of its Aer Lingus Regional operations. Earlier this year, the carrier said it hoped to extend its contract with Aer Lingus to ensure a "sound financial footing" for its business going forward.

Stobart Group, which owns Stobart Air and London Southend airport, is currently in talks over the sale of its stake in the airline and lessor Propius Leasing to another lessor, Falko Regional Aircraft. The latter already owns CityJet (WX, Dublin Int'l), which used to operate the Dublin-London City route for Aer Lingus under a wet-lease contract using ARJ-85s.

Stobart Group sold Stobart Air to the Connect Airways consortium as a part of an ultimately doomed takeover plan involving flybe. (BE, Exeter), which was due to become Virgin Connect (BE, Exeter) only to collapse in March this year. The group itself was a 30% shareholder in Connect Airways. Following flybe.'s bankruptcy, EY, the administrators of the insolvent consortium, assumed a 49% stake in Stobart Air which the airline then bought back in order to prevent its collapse. The other 51% remains owned by Stobart Air employees.