THERE are concerns being raised about the future of Shannon Airport, as it lost a key transatlantic route at the weekend, which local tourism businesses say will affect them badly.
United Airlines operated a Shannon-Newark service from April to late October and while it had been suspended for this year, it was expected it would resume in 2021. However, that will not be happening.
It is another body blow for Shannon, which had been hopeful of a positive 2020, up until Covid-19 struck.
Although in the state of New Jersey, Newark is just a few miles outside of New York City and the United route was an important factor in bringing thousands of American visitors to this part of Ireland.
On Saturday, Shannon Group chief executive Mary Considine sent an email, which has been seen by The Clare Champion, to the newly-formed Oireachtas cross-party group on Shannon, in which she appealed for Government support.
“We were aware that they [United] were not returning this summer because of the travel restrictions in place but we were in dialogue with them on returning for 2021.
“They operate Shannon Newark daily from April through to the end of October. This is a vital service for business connectivity into the US, particularly the FDI’s business in West and MidWest Region.
“This is a very concerning development for Shannon and this region and we urgently require Government intervention to ensure all services do not end up going into Dublin alone.
“This service has already been reduced from year-round to an April to October service and you will be aware of the huge impact this had on business connectivity for this region through the loss of the winter service.”
“To lose it entirely would be a massive blow to Shannon. These airline companies have been heavily subsidised by their own government but the action on this side should be that ‘you can use our State-owned facilities on
the terms that we dictate’. We are asking for Government to take a stronger line and allocate access on a regional basis.”
Shannon Airport currently has no conventional commercial passenger flights, even losing all its Heathrow services since the pandemic struck, even though Aer Lingus opted to keep them going from its other Irish airports.
Over the last decade and a half, Shannon seems to have endured one crisis after another, while the projected improvement after separation from the other State airports didn’t happen to anything like the extent forecast.
Lahinch hotelier Michael Vaughan said that many of the guests at his hotel arrive into this country from Newark and it is another hard blow at a very challenging time.
He said he is concerned about the difficulties facing Shannon, while he said the airport now needs some proactive policies towards it.
“It’s going to take quite an amount of State support to keep Shannon Airport going, there’s no doubt in my mind about it,” he commented.
On Monday, Clare’s independent TD Michael McNamara echoed Ms Considine’s call for new aviation policies, which he said are needed if Ireland is to achieve some degree of regional development.
“We do clearly need a new aviation policy in this state and there have to be stipulations about balance. From the point of view of balanced economic development, we can’t deliver it with just flights in and out of Dublin.
“That was the case at the time of the general election and it’s my position now. Now we also have the impact of Covid-19 and it makes no sense to be bringing everybody through one crowded airport, when there are other options. It’s not like we have to build new airports, like we have to add extensions to stop everyone having to go through the crowded A&E in Limerick.
“We have a fully-built, fully-functioning airport being used to a fraction of its capacity. There’s nobody flying into Shannon now apart from the US military and private jets.”
While Ms Considine and representatives from Knock and Cork airports have been appointed to a new taskforce on aviation, he isn’t confident about what they might be able to achieve.
“They are still going to be hopelessly outnumbered and I don’t know if it falls within the terms of reference to look at regionally-balanced aviation policy,” Deputy McNamara concluded.