CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland City Council is poised to contribute up to $600,000 to an incentive package that will bring Irish airline Aer Lingus to Cleveland, with nonstop service to Dublin.
The flights are expected to launch in May, the first nonstop service to Europe since 2018 when two Icelandic carriers flew from Cleveland.
An exact start date for the flights — expected to be offered four times per week — was not immediately available. Efforts to reach Aer Lingus, headquartered in Dublin, were not successful. Cleveland Hopkins officials declined to comment.
A formal announcement of the new service is expected next week.
The city’s financial contribution will be part of a larger incentive package that is being coordinated by Team NEO, which promotes economic development throughout the region. Cuyahoga County is expected to contribute to the fund, as well, as is the local business community.
The total contribution from local groups is estimated to be $2 million to $2.5 million, according to sources.
Cleveland City Council is expected to consider the request next week. Council President Blaine Griffin said he supports it.
“I think it’s something we’ll get a great return on the investment,” he said. He declined to comment further, deferring to Team NEO and others involved in the process.
The city has contributed to air service incentive programs in the past, although never with this much money.
It’s unclear how much the county will contribute to the fund. County spokesman Tyler Sinclair said a request for funding will be considered by county council next week. He declined to say how much would be requested.
The landing of Aer Lingus has been years in the making for officials at Cleveland Hopkins, who have said that attracting nonstop service to Europe is a top priority.
Other than the short-lived service to Iceland, Cleveland hasn’t had nonstop service to Europe since 2009, when Continental Airlines flew between Hopkins and London.
The wooing of Aer Lingus goes back several years, to 2019, when Cleveland was a finalist for new service from Dublin. According to sources, the business community in Cleveland didn’t come up with the financial incentive that Aer Lingus required.
Financial incentives for new air service are increasingly common, particularly for international flights. In 2020, JobsOhio, the economic development arm of state government, set up a program to help airports throughout the state attract new service.
Federal law prohibits airports from directly offering money to airlines for new service. Instead, business organizations and state and local governments can come up with packages that help airlines offset some of the risks of entering a new market.
The incentives are not grants to the airlines, but rather revenue guarantees that are designed to minimize the risk of entering a new market. They typically last for two years, enough time for a new route to get established.
Recently, JobsOhio and Team NEO put together a package that helped entice Alaska Airlines to launch service from Cleveland to Seattle. The fund has also supported new service from Breeze Airways at the Akron-Canton Airport.
But new international service has always been the target. Airport officials in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati for years lamented that neighboring states, including Pennsylvania and Indiana, were successful at landing new international flights, in part because of established funds to help lure them.
Officials in Pittsburgh estimate that the city’s nonstop British Airways flight to London generates $57 million in annual economic benefits.
Aer Lingus was founded in 1936 by the Irish government and is currently owned by the International Airlines Group, which also owns British Airways and Iberia. It currently flies to more than 100 destinations, mostly in Europe.