Aer Lingus is proposing to use US-based cabin crew on its transatlantic flights after carrying out a benchmarking exercise which compared the Irish airline's cost base to that of low-cost American operators such as JetBlue.

The Sunday Tribune has learned that in recent days Aer Lingus sent representatives from its human resources department to the US to examine how airlines there use their cabin crews and reduce overnight expenses.

The airline is locked in negotiations with unions over a major cost-cutting programme and the controversial idea of using US cabin crews could create tensions between the sides. However the airline is hoping some of its transatlantic staff may accept severance terms, allowing the US crew gradually to start staffing some flights to New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Orlando.

Under the airline plan, cabin crew from these American cities would fly on services to Ireland and then go back on return flights the same day, reducing the need for Irish-based staff to overnight in US hotels. Aer Lingus believes this could to remove a major cost burden from its transatlantic operations.

The airline declined to comment on the proposals last week, saying negotiations with unions were continuing and no formal announcement will be made for several weeks.

Aer Lingus executives believe the airline can learn valuable lessons from the efficiency of US carriers on transatlantic routes, particularly in relation to faster turnarounds and most efficient use of its A330 fleet.

The airline is also seriously reviewing all its operations at Shannon and putting pressure on the airport authorities there to lower charges or face a much curtailed number of flights into Shannon.

Aer Lingus, despite having over €800m of cash on its balance sheet, says it needs to reduce expenses significantly before winter 2008/2009, when airlines throughout Europe are expecting major pressure on revenues, despite recent oil price declines.

The airline made a loss of €22.3m in the first six months of the year and has reduced capacity on long-haul routes by 11% for winter 2008/09. Earlier this year it scrapped its service to Los Angeles, one of only two routes serving the west coast of the US.

"It is clear that the unprecedented cost of fuel and the difficult operating environment will continue to have a significant effect on the financial performance of the business and that there will be sustained fare pressure over the medium and longer term," Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion said recently. He said even with reductions in fuel prices over the last few weeks the airline would do no better than break even in 2008. The airline has not provided guidance on 2009 performance.