Did you know about Ireland's leading position in the global aviation industry? Ryanair and Aer Lingus have constantly led the field in customer satisfaction, service delivery innovation and market profile but, beyond the operational side, Ireland is also a world leader in aircraft leasing and airline software and has a leading part in the story of aviation.
First transAtlantic flight
Ireland’s leading role in global aviation stems from our strategic location on the western edge of Europe. On June 5th, 1919, John Alcock and Arthur Brown landed near Clifden, County Galway, the first men to fly the Atlantic in one hop. When Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in 1927, New York to Paris, he said “I saw the green hills of Ireland and I knew that I had hit Europe on the nose. Ireland is one of the four corners of the world.”
Foynes, on the Shannon Estuary in County Limerick, was Ireland's first transatlantic seaplane airport and operated all through World War Two. Foynes was strategically important to the war effort, establishing Ireland as a gateway between Europe and the North American continent. Foynes was home to iconic flying boats such as the Boeing B314 Clipper and the Sunderland.
On February 25th 1937, the first flying boat landed at Foynes. It was a survey flight by Imperial Airways ‘Cambria’ under Captain Powell, arriving from Southampton. On July 9th, 1939, ‘Yankee Clipper’ arrived with 19 passengers on the first scheduled passenger flight on the North Atlantic. In 1942 Captain Blair completes the first non-stop passenger flight from Foynes to New York in 25 hours 40 minutes and Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt arrived in Foynes under the alias ‘Mrs Smith’. In 1947, Bermuda Sky Queen left Foynes for New York with 61 passengers on board, the greatest number ever flown across the Atlantic in a Flying Boat. She crashed mid-Atlantic, but no one was lost. Foynes’s busiest years were 1942-44 and this romantic era in air travel is recreated at the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, where a reconstructed B314 Clipper can be enjoyed. The Irish Coffee was invented in Foynes, to give a warm welcome to passengers off the long, cold flights. Pictured below, Marilyn Monroe enjoys an Irish coffee after her transatlantic flight to Ireland
Just across the Shannon Estuary in County Clare, work began on Shannon airport in 1936. On 16 September, 1945, the first transatlantic proving flight, a Pan Am DC-4, landed at Shannon from New York City.
The number of international carriers rose sharply in the 1960s as Shannon became well known as the gateway between Europe and the Americas. Limited aircraft range necessitated refuelling stops on many journeys. Shannon became the most convenient stopping point before and after a trip across the Atlantic. Additionally, during the Cold War, many transatlantic flights from the Soviet Union stopped here for refuelling, because Shannon was the westernmost non-NATO airport. The longest runway in Ireland, at 3,199 metres, is located at Shannon. It was a designated landing site for the Space Shuttle.
In 1947, the world’s first duty-free shop opened at Shannon, providing a model that was used worldwide. Today, Shannon is a hub for Aer Lingus and Ryanair and is used seasonally by many airlines. Shannon is an important airport for emergency landings. Adjacent to the airport, the Shannon Free Zone was established in 1959 as the world’s first free trade zone.
Tony Ryan and aircraft leasing
Tony Ryan established the world’s first aircraft leasing business, GPA (Guinness Peat Aviation), in 1979. Based in Shannon, this radically innovative business model saw the company valued at $4 billion at its peak. In 1990, GPA stunned the aviation world by placing a $17 billion order for 700 new aircraft over the following decade. Ryan helped create Ryanair in 1985 and the rest is history.
Ireland remains a key hub for the global aircraft leasing business. It is estimated that $5.2 trillion worth of new aircraft will be needed over the next 20 years and Irish leasing companies will finance $1.2 trillion of this spend. An Irish-leased aircraft takes off, somewhere in the world, every 2 seconds, with 14 of the top 15 lessors based in Ireland. Currently, $120 billion in aircraft assets are managed from Ireland, representing 50% of the world’s leased aircraft fleet and the international registrar of aviation assets is based in Ireland.
On 16 October, 2015, it was announced that the leasing arm of the China Construction Bank, CCB Leasing International, is to launch its international aircraft leasing headquarters in Dublin. The bank, the fourth largest in the world, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with IDA Ireland. Under the terms of the deal, Ireland will be the headquarters for all of the bank's aircraft leasing activities outside of China and it plans to expand into other leasing areas. The group also plans to grow its aircraft fleet in Ireland to 200 aircraft over the next five years. "Ireland is an ideal launch pad for European, African and American markets," commented Hongzhang Wang, Chairman of China Construction Bank.
On the operational front, Ryanair is both Europe’s largest airline and the world’s leading airline by international passenger numbers (10.4 million per month, August 2015), with an unblemished safety record. Aer Lingus, established in 1936, is one of the world’s oldest operational airlines and enjoys a strong global reputation for pilot training, safety and brand recognition, especially in the US market.
Viasat is on the leading edge of airline software development, putting Ireland’s aviation history, strategic location, native English language skills and reputation for technological innovation to work for our clients. We count Aer Lingus and Ryanair among our customers, but we bring a truly global perspective to the solution of our clients’ problems, from Singapore Airlines to Qatar Airways.
Ireland has always delivered innovation to global aviation and Viasat Ireland continues this proud tradition.
Discover Ireland’s rich aviation history at the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, County Limerick: http://www.flyingboatmuseum.com/
Find out more about Shannon Airport: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shannon_Airport
Learn about the enormous scale of Ireland’s aircraft leasing operations and why Ireland is such a great location for the aviation industry in this video: https://youtu.be/QJRy8WC0Ttw
Images, top to bottom:
Boeing B314 Flying Boat. Source: Flying Boat Museum, Foynes.
Reconstructed Boeing B314 at Foynes Flying Boat Museum. Source: Flying Boat Museum, Foynes.
Marilyn Monroe enjoys an Irish coffee after her transatlantic flight to Ireland. Source: Flying Boat Museum, Foynes.
Part of Ryanair's fleet, currently at 445 aircraft. Source: Ryanair.
Aer Lingus A320 in retro livery and staff in uniforms from down the years, to mark the airline's 75th anniversary in 2011. Source: Aer Lingus.
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This post was updated on 14 December, 2018.