OFTEN criticised around Shannon, Aer Lingus spokesman Sean Doyle last week told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks that the airline is committed to Shannon, and plans to have transatlantic flights from the Clare airport next year.
During the debate Clare TD Joe Carey, who chaired the meeting, put it to Mr Doyle that Shannon has had more services cut by Aer Lingus than other airports. “I would like to ask Mr Doyle about the commitment of Aer Lingus to Shannon Airport. Transatlantic services are of vital importance to FDI and tourism right along the western seaboard. Is the airline committed to restoring those American routes and, in particular, the Heathrow route? I note that Aer Lingus operates routes out of Cork, Dublin and Belfast. Mr Doyle has spoken about Ireland being an outlier (in terms of having more restrictive aviation policies). Shannon Airport is an outlier because it is not being treated the same as any other airport that has a connection to Heathrow Airport. When does Aer Lingus intend to restore that route?”
Responding, Mr Doyle sought to blame Irish policy for the situation. “I cannot give the Chair an answer on when we intend to restore it because it depends on the Government approach to opening up travel. If we had a level playing field with the rest of Europe, restoring Shannon Airport would have been in evaluation much earlier than it has been. If we carry on with the current green list process, however, or if we do not adopt the approach that has been outlined by the Commission on October 13, I do not see any prospect of us resuming short-haul services at Shannon Airport this winter.”
However he said the airline does have plans for the future for Shannon. “If I look to next summer, we are committed to Shannon Airport. We believe the North Atlantic services worked well for everybody in the region and see a long-term commitment to reinstate those transatlantic services. At the minute, however, Aer Lingus is operating just three north Atlantic routes out of Dublin and those routes are showing low load factors. We have one route operating out of Cork Airport which is to Heathrow. Again, that is struggling as we head into the winter with the current travel policy. Government policy will be the fundamental dictator of when we can reinstate services in places such as Shannon Airport.”
Later in the debate, in response to a question from Senator Timmy Dooley, Mr Doyle added, “We have already published our summer schedule for Shannon and we are keen to operate the North Atlantic routes and reinstate the Heathrow route. We have made our ambition clear. If the common travel area was open to unrestricted movement, we would certainly look at reinstating the Heathrow service earlier than next summer. We have people at Shannon who are ready to be reinstated if the policies support such action. The aviation task force was looking at supports to stimulate demand, and these are an important part of what is needed to get back on our feet.”