Air passengers who transfer through Heathrow on journeys between the US and mainland Europe may fly via Ireland instead if the UK votes to leave the EU, the boss of Aer Lingus has claimed.
Stephen Kavanagh, chief executive of the flag carrier airline of Ireland, said airports such as Dublin could take business away from the UK if a Leave vote makes it harder for passengers to enter and exit the country.
He made the comments while explaining that Ireland should already be targeting passengers who want to travel to cities on the east coast of the US without having to endure the "poor" customer experience of the country's largest airports.
Speaking about the EU referendum ahead of the International Air Transport Association's annual general meeting in Dublin, Mr Kavanagh said: "Poor airports in North America are an opportunity for us to connect cities on the east coast directly to Dublin and flood those customers through to the UK and Europe.
"If Heathrow or the UK becomes difficult to transfer through from a European perspective then that again escalates the opportunity for our expanding Irish airports."
Asked if that meant the Irish aviation industry should hope for Brexit, Mr Kavanagh replied: "The lesson is to always look for opportunity and I think that is a distinctly Irish trait because we have such a small home market. We have to be internationally relevant in everything we do."
Some 25 million passengers used Dublin Airport last year, including one million who were taking multiple flights.
The boss of the airport claimed it already offers a "far better experience" for travelling to the US for some people in the UK.
Kevin Toland, chief executive of Dublin Airport Authority, said: "If you want to go to North America from somewhere in the UK, you can find 33 cities in the UK connecting to Dublin, from Heathrow you can only go to eight other cities and towns in the UK, so there's far deeper penetration.
"Unless you like a long car journey and an expensive car parking stop in one of the major UK airports, it's easier and more straightforward and a far better experience to come through Dublin."
Three new routes between Dublin and the US are being launched this year: Los Angeles, California; Newark, New Jersey and Hartford, Connecticut.
Passengers are able to undertake all US immigration and customs inspections at Dublin Airport prior to departure, meaning they save time on arrival as they are treated as domestic travellers.