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Shannon Airport stragegy up for discussion

Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen, is to meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Transport Shane Ross to discuss the future sustainability of economically strategic connections in and out of Shannon Airport.

It comes in the wake of the loss of the United Airlines’ Shannon-Chicago route from next year.

“Having worked very closely with the airport in attracting Air Canada to Shannon, I am aware of the time and work that goes into securing such an important business and tourism air link. In the wake of the Chicago flights, I am also painfully aware of how quickly connectivity can be lost,” he said.

On the same issue, Deputy Timmy Dooley has said that the independence gained by Shannon Airport from Dublin Airport Authority in December 2012 is not panning out as expected.

“Shannon is competing with Dublin Airport and that’s one of the reasons why I was concerned about the separation from day one. While some people thought it was good to get out from under the clutches of Dublin, the reality is now coming to dawn on people who may not have thought it through at the time.

“Trying to compete against Dublin was always going to be exceptionally challenging for an airport like Shannon, particularly with the improved road network. We’re going to see things like this happen over time but what Shannon needs to get very good at now is aggressive marketing to the US and Europe and try to rebuild passengers that are lost.

I’ve spoken with management down there and they are very in tune with what needs to happen and they are going to continue the battle,” Deputy Dooley said.

“The big thing that the airport needs is infrastructure and what’s missing at the minute is a direct connection to Cork. The road network from Limerick to Cork needs to be upgraded and I would have thought, long-term, that what the airport should be pushing for, looking at connecting the city of Dublin with Limerick by high speed rail. That will ensure that, long-term, Dublin Airport won’t get any bigger than it’s scheduled to be,” he added.

Meanwhile, Deputy Breen said that while traffic into Shannon has grown by 25% in the last four years, he is now concerned with sustaining the long-term future of the airport’s connections with international gateway hubs and ensuring the continued availability of strategic flights for investment and job development in the region.

“Connectivity to the Mid-West Region and indeed the West of Ireland through Shannon Airport is vital to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) trade and the expansion of our indigenous companies. Access to transatlantic and European hubs, particularly post-Brexit, is essential for further growth and investment in the region,” Minister Breen said.

“Protecting and supporting such strategic connections will not be straight forward but I believe we must start working on a long-term, strategic plan. We must therefore start to look at a way in which we can protect connectivity between Shannon Airport and strategically placed international hubs, for the sake of investment, jobs and trade. I have asked the Taoiseach to meet with Shannon Airport, the Minister for Transport and I as soon as is possible to discuss this, as it is not just a regional issue but a national matter,” the Fine Gael TD continued.

Deputy Breen said it is estimated that approximately €3 billion of GDP is impacted by the Shannon Group.
“The IDA maintain that Shannon Airport coupled with the number of third level institutions in the region plays a major role in attracting new FDIs and I have met with many CEOs of companies who are looking to invest in the Mid-West and have reiterated this finding. In fact, you can currently reach 40% of US FDI companies by car within 90 minutes of Shannon Airport.

“The answer is not simple but the question of how to safeguard business links into Shannon Airport, an airport that is connected to two of our largest cities by motorway, needs to be asked. The European Commission recently approved new state aid rules that exempt certain public support measures for airports and allows member states to make public investments in regional airports handling up to three million passengers per year. The objective is to facilitate public investment for job creation and growth, whilst preserving competition. I think it is therefore worth investigating if it would be possible, for example, to seek investment into essential infrastructure at the airport under this ruling and, therefore, free up airport funds for the promotion and security of these economically strategic connections,” he concluded.

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