By Owen Ryan
SHANNON Airport’s recovery has progressed much more quickly than he expected when he moved to separate it from the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has acknowledged.
On a visit to the airport, he said the fact that Shannon had moved into profit in 2013 (it was understood to be losing well over €100,000 a week in 2012) had surprised him.
“To be brutally honest, as minister I really didn’t think the airport would manage that in year one. I thought it would have taken maybe three years for that to be done, so that’s one of the areas where we’re ahead of schedule really. It does mean that the airport is in a stronger position now to invest and to do things like build new hangars. Obviously, if you’re making losses you’re eating into your reserves and it’s harder to borrow. If you’re turning a profit, it’s much easier.”
Mr Varadkar met with Shannon Group CEO Neil Pakey and chair Rose Hynes on a day when it was announced that an eight-year lease had been agreed with Air Contractors (a member of the ASL Aviation Group) for the remaining hangar space at Shannon.
They will use it to carry out maintenance on its fleet of Boeing and ATR aircraft, including the aircraft that Aer Lingus are using on their new daily Shannon-Boston service and their Shannon-New York service, which starts next month.
It means all the hangars at Shannon are now occupied and Mr Varadkar said that is more good news.
“With Air Contractors signing the contract for the next eight years it means that all the hangars in the airport are now fully occupied, which means it’s time to start building some new ones. It’s about ensuring the airport is profitable but also about creating jobs, good jobs, in the region.”
He said the decision to separate Shannon from the DAA, which was made at a time when the Clare airport was floundering badly, involved what he called “a leap of faith”.
The minister claimed it has been justified by the events of the last year and that the outlook for 2014 is very positive.
“I really think we’re seeing good evidence now that it’s paying off. Last year was a year of stabilisation, when the airport managed to reverse the trend of passenger decline. There was a small increase in passenger numbers last year and really what this year is all about is being the first year of expansion.”