Aer Lingus has tentatively secured regulatory approval from the US Department of Transportation to join the transatlantic joint business with, amongst others, American Airlines and British Airways.
This has taken considerably longer than expected to obtain. IAG bought Aer Lingus in 2015. It did not start the formal process to join the transatlantic joint business until late 2018, and tentative regulatory approval has only just been granted.
Both Delta and JetBlue made representations to the US Department of Transportation. The concern of both airlines is securing slots at London Heathrow. The Competition & Markets Authority is still reviewing the competitive impact of the transatlantic joint business in the UK, and has deferred its final conclusion until 2024. Regulatory approval has been granted on condition that members of the joint business continue to comply with slot remedies at London airports.
As a condition of regulatory approval, the joint business is also required to remove exclusivity clauses from the agreements between airlines. These require any participating airline to obtain pre-approval before codesharing with another airline in the area covered by the joint business.
The greatest impact of Aer Lingus joining the transatlantic joint business will of course be in Ireland where American Airlines will be able to co-ordinate schedules with Aer Lingus.
American Airlines has suspended all flights from Dublin until late March 2021 at the earliest and from Shannon until May 2021.
As far as the UK is concerned, BA already codeshares with Aer Lingus on transatlantic routes. Aer Lingus is reported to be in discussions on launching transatlantic routes from Manchester next summer.
Note that the official release from the Department of Transportation refers to the joint business as the Oneworld alliance – Aer Lingus is not expected to rejoin the alliance as a full member.
In terms of what happens next, interested parties have 14 days to respond to the tentative approval. Formal approval should be granted shortly afterwards. As regulatory agencies normally co-ordinate their response to anti-trust immunity requests, approval from the European Commission should be granted shortly.