Saturday, August 18, 2007

Be Careful What You Pray For

....because you just might get it.

An old saying, but it never hurts to be reminded about the consequences down the road. Look before you leap is another one, a suggestion to analyze and create forward looking scenarios before taking action. Think ahead, so that you don't wake up one day and discover that the national airline you set free upon the marketplace ups and does what makes business sense, to the detriment of your constituents.

No longer under the thumb of the Irish government, Aer Lingus has determined that pulling out of Shannon Airport is in its best interest. They will take their slots up to Belfast, where the labor agreement between management and pilots will result in a huge cost savings. The company expects an increase in traffic, and reduced operating expenses, which is all to the good for a company that has to meet stockholder expectations.

The people affected by the decision, all the pilots and ground crew and local business people, don't matter to a faceless corporation. That's simply how things are in the free market. The people. of course, matter very much to men like Willie O'Dea, defense minister and Fianna Fail representative from Limerick. Those who vote for him are up in arms over the planned move, and they turn to Mr. O'Dea, their man in the government, to do something.

The problem is, the government has no control over private businesses, and Aer Lingus is no longer a national airline but a private concern that is run by its board of directors and looks to please the stockholders. The government cannot force the airline to make or change any decisions, not since the Dail decided that they did not wish to be in the airline industry.

Willie O'Dea has vowed to fight, to urge Aer Lingus to change its corporate mind, because he is well aware that the government of Ireland can do nothing to control the decisions of Aer Lingus' board. He is looking at the future of the west of Ireland without Aer Lingus, and he paints a grim picture of job loss, lack of investment by large firms who need regular flight service to do business, and a general decline in a region that is struggling to employ its citizens.

Aer Lingus has no incentive whatsoever to reverse its plan to leave Shannon, and all the meetings and talks between Aer Lingus and government ministers will make no difference. What Mr. O'Dea might try is to court some other small airline, to come to Shannon and take over the Aer Lingus slots. A sweet deal that makes economic sense will do more to solve the crisis than a wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth.

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