The Ryanair board signed off on plans yesterday confirming that the budget airline is to begin transatlantic flights. The announcement follows the decision of Icelandic airline WOW! to offer transatlantic flights between Ireland and Washington D.C. and Boston for a round-trip lead-in price of $350 (including all taxes).

Ryanair’s fares could greatly undercut this, however, with fares set to begin at $15 one-way (excluding taxes and charges), although the majority of seats would be set at a higher premium rate. It is also unclear how long passengers will have to wait to avail of these low-fare flights. Despite this, Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary hopes to provide an average price for flights that will fall under $105 some time in the next four to five years.

The airline recently unveiled an ambitious five-year growth strategy along with a new website on which American customers can purchase flights within Europe. The Ryanair plan foresees that 100 million passengers will fly Europe's busiest airline this year. The transatlantic addition to the plan will see it investigate the opportunity for flights between the U.S. and several European cities.

A major problem faced by the airline before it can begin to offer transatlantic flights is the difficulty in securing a fleet of long-haul planes. Last November, O’Leary stated that Ryanair was still some way off being able to provide a transatlantic service because of the backlog in orders for long-haul aircraft. O’Leary suggested that it could possibly mean a three to four year wait before they could own a fleet substantial enough to embark on transatlantic expansion.

O’Leary previously stated that flights would not be directly aimed at Irish customers from the beginning but could instead be run through an affiliate company. The most recent announcement, however, includes Dublin among the European cities in the Ryanair line up that also includes up to 14 U.S. cities.

The move could come as another blow to Aer Lingus, still in the midst of a takeover bid from International Airlines Group (IAG). IAG made a $1.48 billion bid for the Irish airline but discussions with the Irish government are on-going as the Irish transport minister, Paschal Donohoe, attempts to secure assurances on employment and secure take-off positions at Heathrow Airport.

Despite the recent Aer Lingus sale on transatlantic flights, both WOW Air and Ryanair would undercut their fares if all plans come to fruition.

Adding to the transatlantic air-fare battle is Oslo-based airline, Norwegian Air Shuttle, which plans to undertake long-haul services between Europe and the US and Asia using its Dublin-based subsidiary, Norwegian Air International.

Speaking to the Irish Times, Irish prime minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny wished Ryanair good luck and said, “The more connectivity we have with America the greater the opportunity for people to come both ways.”

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