IAG is prepared to give a "cast-iron legal guarantee" on Aer Lingus' Heathrow slots if its takeover bid went ahead, chief executive Willie Walsh has told the Oireachtas Transport Committee.

Mr Walsh said that in the event of a buy-out, IAG could guarantee that the slots would continue to be owned and utilised by Aer Lingus - something which did not previously exist.

He added that such a guarantee could be legally binding.

He said that Aer Lingus has good opportunities ahead and he believes IAG can support them and benefit from advantages of being part of a larger group.

Speaking tonight on RTÉ’s Six One, Mr Walsh reaffirmed that the Heathrow slots will remain in the ownership of Aer Lingus, saying that IAG will put this in the ownership structure.

"The slots will remain the property of Aer Lingus. One hundred percent in the ownership of Aer Lingus,” said Mr Walsh.

“What we will do is that we will put in place a structure that not just replicates what's in place today where the government, in combination with the other shareholders, can prevent the sale.

“We'll put a structure in place that makes that stronger.” 

Mr Walsh said IAG are a multi-national and multi-brand airline group which was interested in acquiring Aer Lingus because its brand fits well within the group.

Earlier, while before the Transport Committee, when asked by committee chairman John O'Mahony about the effect of the sale on regional airports such as Knock, Mr Walsh said IAG had a history of working with franchise operators like Stobart Air, which operates the Aer Lingus Regional service out of some Irish regional airports.

He said that in relation to Knock Airport, British Airways could enhance the value of relations with Gatwick Airport. 

In relation to Shannon and Cork airports, Mr Walsh said the Shannon-Heathrow routes are profitable. 

He said nobody should be concerned about the operation of routes involving Shannon and Cork because they are profitable on their own and they can be used for connecting services. 

He said that when he looks at the traffic flows between Cork and Heathrow and Shannon and Heathrow - the volume of traffic has remained steady, particularly out of Cork. 

He said the Shannon traffic is not as high but both routes are sustainable. 

He said that Ireland "is an attractive market for us."

IAG would look at job cuts

Mr Walsh has said some jobs would be lost but more would be created, were it to take over the airline.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O'Rourke, he said IAG would look to reduce some jobs in administration as they would be duplicated elsewhere.

He said, however, that it could provide Aer Lingus with additional aircraft that would allow it to increase its long haul flights and increase passenger numbers.

He said this would result the creation of good quality jobs based in Dublin, for pilots, engineers and cabin crew, which could amount to up to 500 jobs being created over the next five years.

On issue of Aer Lingus' Heathrow slots, he said IAG was prepared to replicate the current block significant shareholders currently exercise over the sale of these slots.

Mr Walsh said this would be a cast-iron legally binding structure, that would be stronger than the current provision and would survive any future sale of IAG.

He said IAG was also prepared to give a guarantee on the use of these slots.

Mr Walsh said they would guarantee that these slots will be used in serving Ireland for a period of five years.

On the issue of jobs, Mr Walsh said: "There certainly would be some jobs that are in Aer Lingus today in administrative areas that would in effect be duplicated by administrative roles that we've got elsewhere, so we could be looking to reduce - in the head office in the administrative airline, but the big story is we would grow the airline....and the jobs that are created are good quality jobs that would be based in Ireland, primarily based in Dublin."

Mr Walsh said IAG wanted to buy Aer Lingus because it was a good airline with a strong brand and would fit well within the IAG structure.

He said they saw a lot of potential to expand Dublin as a transatlantic hub.

Mr Walsh said Aer Lingus would remain independent within the IAG group.

He said the airline industry is consolidating and the ability of Aer Lingus to grow in that environment will come into question.

Mr Walsh said he believed the Government had an open mind on the potential sale.

You can read a blog on the bid by RTÉ's Business Editor David Murphy here.

The National Secretary of the IMPACT trade union has said that Mr Walsh's commitment on jobs growth is a pre-existing commitment made by the existing Aer Lingus management team.

Matt Staunton told RTÉ's News At One that Mr Walsh's comments were scant on detail and that he is not convinced that the slots would be maintained or used. 

He said that IAG will look after IAG first and not Ireland.

Mr Staunton urged the Government to be wise in how it proceeds with it's 25% stake, saying that it offers the Government some veto over the use of slots.

Up to 80 jobs to go in catering division changes

Meanwhile, up to 80 jobs will be axed in the Aer Lingus catering division by this summer, the company has told SIPTU.

It is understood management said that the supply chain for delivering food to and from the aircraft is being redesigned, which could result in 60 to 80 job losses.

Initially the airline will look at redeployment within the airline, voluntary severance or non-renewal of fixed term contracts.

Asked whether compulsory redundancies could be on the table, a source told RTÉ that nothing was being ruled in or out.

It is understood that the airline will also be engaging in "market testing", which some sources fear could be a prelude to outsourcing.

Aer Lingus Director of Communications Declan Kearney said that the job losses would be part of an ongoing restructuring under the CORE reform programme, and was not related to the IAG bid for the airline.

He said that they operated in an extremely competitive market, and were constantly restructuring to maintain competitiveness.

Last week Aer Lingus announced a new voluntary severance scheme, which it anticipates will result in a net reduction of 150 jobs from its workforce of 3,965.

It told the Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton that it also anticipated that further restructuring would see another 120 redundancies where roles would be replaced by lower-paid new hires.

It said those redundancies would take effect between 1 March and 31 December this year.