Éire san Aer

The development of aviation in Ireland has been governed by two fundamental geographical considerations: its island status and its location on the western rim of Europe.

The first led to early plans for international connections, at first to the neighbouring island (the first crossings of the Irish Sea date from 1912 and the first air mail was flown from Belfast to Liverpool in 1928), and subsequently further afield. The second factor led major aviation powers on both sides of the Atlantic to see Ireland as an important transit stop, first for flying-boats at Foynes, Co. Limerick. Then, post-1945, for landplanes until the introduction of jets with their greatly enhanced range progressively reduced the requirement for refuelling on transatlantic crossings.

The earliest airports date from 1917, when eight sites were selected for the Royal Flying Corps. Of these, Aldergrove, Baldonnel and Collinstown (Dublin) were to develop into major airports in later years. The first commercial airport in the then Irish Free State was opened in Dublin in 1931 by Iona National Airways, and in 1936 Aer Lingus operated its first services out of the Air Corps base at Baldonnel, transferring to the new Collinstown airport in 1940. Flying-boats had been using the base at Foynes since 1939 and the first landplane touched down at Rineanna (now Shannon) on the opposite bank of the river in 1941. A civil airport was opened at Ballygarvan, Cork, in 1961.

In the following years local airports were inaugurated, with varying degrees of success. Among the many small private airports in other locations the most consistently successful has been Weston, near Leixlip, Co. Kildare. In addition to Baldonnel, other military airports were or are operated at Finner, Co. Donegal and Gormanston, Co. Meath. In recent years most airports, Dublin and Cork in particular, have witnessed rapid expansion in passenger numbers.


A number of schemes for an Irish-based international airline were mooted before the Air Navigation and Transport Bill 1936 established the State as the sole international carrier. Aer Lingus was incorporated in May of that year when it flew its first service, to Bristol, under the title Irish Sea Airways. Its first aircraft was a DH84 Dragon, named Iolar. The first private airline, Iona National Airways, was followed by a number of small fugitive ventures up to the outbreak of World War II, during which all privately-owned Irish aircraft were impounded.

The 1950s and subsequent years saw the emergence of new undertakings including Irish Helicopters (1969), an Aer Lingus subsidiary before passing into private hands, and the all-cargo Aer Turas in which Aer Lingus acquired a 54 per cent stake in 1980. A Derry-based independent, Emerald Airways, operated briefly out of Belfast (Nutts Corner) in the 1960s before being taken over by Hibernian Airlines which had begun flying out of Dublin in April 1966. In July 1970 Aer Arann inaugurated services between Oranmore, Co. Galway, and the Aran Islands. The entry into this field of the independent airline Avair (1978) prompted Aer Lingus to establish a domestic network and ultimately (1984) to force Avair into liquidation in controversial circumstances. In the 1970s Tony Ryan, founder of the Guinness Peat Aviation aircraft leasing company, established a subsidiary, Air Tara, out of which, and with the involvement of Ryan's sons, grew Ryanair, currently one of the leading European low-cost airlines.

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