Ireland's Central Statistics Office shows rise in flights to Ireland from North America while trips by British residents have continued to decline

Aer Lingus may quit the Republic and move its operations to London or Belfast — in order to cut costs and stave off union problems.

Aer Lingus has applied to the UK's civil aviation authority for a UK operating license, according to The Wall Street Journal. This means that the airline could legally move its corporate headquarters to Belfast or London — lock, stock, and barrel.

That would allow it to essentially start over and force workers to reapply for their jobs under the new Aer Lingus UK rubric.

Currently, Aer Lingus is in tough negotiations with its unions to cut 676 jobs through voluntary layoffs. The company says it needs to make $150 million in savings by the end of 2011 to stay alive.

Aer Lingus has warned that if it doesn't get the labor cuts  by Nov. 30, it will look at a different plan to shrink the airline with compulsory layoffs and a reduction in routes.

Aer Lingus has a huge issue with it long-haul pilots, who make up to $500,000 a year on the Atlantic route and have golden pension plans as well. Ryanair pilots, by comparison, are only paid half that amount.

By relocating to Belfast or Gatwick, the airline could force all those pilots to reapply to the new entity. It remains to be seen however, if
such a drastic move will be necessary.