The Irish aviation industry is behind some of the biggest names in our skies, including Europe's largest airline, Ryanair. Katie Gregory reports on how a country with a population of just 5 million became a world power in aviation.
Even BEFORE the first non-stop trans-atlantic flight by landed in Galway - on Ireland's west coast. The country was already emerging as a nation of keen aviators. A lot to do initially with it's location linking Europe to the U.S. (SOUNDBITE) (English) EAMONN BRENNAN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, IRISH AVIATION AUTHORITY, SAYING; "We don't have the strength that some of the larger economies have so we have to offer a unique product and our product is innovation, its enterprise and its also the fact that we have a skills base here that we can grow and we love it. " Ireland is home to 14 registered airlines including Ryan Air and Aer Lingus - which is owned by parent company IAG. Today the industry is worth a massive 5 billion euros to the country's economy and employs up to 70-thousand people. - equivalent to 1.7% of GDP. We're at a daily briefing at the Dublin Headquarters of Airline leasing firm Avolon. It's the world's third largest airline leasing firm - now owned by China's HNA Group. They're keeping track of a fleet of 915 aircraft - that includes outstanding orders. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JOHN HIGGINS, CHIEF COMMERCIAL OFFICER, AVOLON, SAYING; "Of a fleet of about 20,000 commercial airplanes flying around the world almost half of those are leases and more than half of those are leased from this country. " Nine of the top 10 aircraft leasing firms are headquartered in Ireland - taking advantage of the country's low corporate tax rate and also the vast network of double tax treaties. There are other challenges facing the current profitability in the WHOLE airline sector though - not just in Ireland but GLOBALLY. (SOUNDBITE) (English) STEPHEN FURLONG, AVIATION ANALYST, DAVY, SAYING; "It's obviously driven as well by what geopolitical economic risks, and the fuel can go up, interest rates can go up." The global aviation industry is expected to double in the next 20 years. Meaning many more planes will be taking to the skies - ensuring the Irish love affair with aviation continues well into the future.