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Save Our Shannon rally in Ennis. Photograph by Arthur Ellis.

Airport lobby calls on Leo to back supportive words with action

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THE Save Our Shannon group rally in Ennis which heard from speakers across the political spectrum and hospitality leaders challenged the Tanaiste to back up his supportive words with action, writes Owen Ryan.

Organiser Denis Vaughan “We note the very significant statement of support from the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar that we read about in the media from a recent call with Limerick Chamber.

“He committed to ‘positive discrimination’ for airports in the regions in the Covid recovery but this has to be backed up with action and quickly.”

The four Clare TDs Cathal Crowe, Joe Carey, Michael McNamara and Violet-Anne Wynne, Senator Timmy Dooley, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council PJ Ryan and former President of the Irish Hotels Federation Michael Vaughan all spoke at the rally.

Denis Vaughan said it is imperative the public gets behind and supports Shannon by flying from the airport. The survival of Shannon and other regional airports, however, has never been more dependent on government intervention.

Less than a week after the lifting of the non-essential travel ban, Mr Vaughan commended Shannon Airport for winning back some of its service, but he said that there is a huge uphill battle for Shannon and other airports.

“We have to commend Shannon and its staff for getting some services back already. This is no small achievement for an airport, like others outside the capital, swimming against the tide.

“Shannon is a fantastic airport, provides an invaluable service to the Mid-West, West and South of the country. That’s why we are here today, to make a statement to government that this airport is a heartbeat for the economy of these regions and it needs urgent support,” the SOS founder said.

“But you can’t but be worried for what lies ahead and the signs are already ominous.

“All we have to do is read the figures from the week just gone. Ryanair, which is making a great commitment to Shannon and we would ask the public to support the airline. They had 176 flights in and out of Ireland on Monday and 150 of them were at Dublin. That’s over 85%.

“We do accept this is a very difficult time for the industry and for government to deal with but unless it acts, Shannon and other airports in the regions will be under serious threat and regional economies will be undermined.”

Mr Vaughan said he drew confidence from a recent commitment by government but that action speaks louder than words.

“We note the very significant statement of support from the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar that we read about in the media from a recent call with Limerick Chamber.

“He committed to ‘positive discrimination’ for airports in the regions in the Covid recovery but this has to be backed up with action and quickly.”

Mr Vaughan said that the Covid recovery needs to be seen as an opportunity to correct the regional imbalance in the market.

“Prior to Covid, Dublin was winning 96% of all new passengers into Ireland, which is clearly unsustainable in the context of balanced regional development. The maths speaks for itself. “With every one-million of new passengers, 960,000 of them would be flying in and out of Dublin, leaving just 40,000 passengers divided amongst Shannon, Cork, Kerry and Knock airports.

“Not alone is that denying economic growth in regions that are lagging way behind the east coast but it’s no stretch of the imagination to think that half of those passengers are actually destined for the catchments of the other airports. It is also environmentally unsustainable to have people arriving into Dublin and travelling across the country to their destination.

“We are not saying for one minute that there should be an equal slice of the cake for all airports. We accept that would not be realistic. In the ten years prior to Covid, Dublin Airport grew its passengers by 14 million.

“If even 20%, which would admittedly be a big figure, was split among the other airports, it would be not far off three million passengers.

“That would be transformational for those airports and the regions. Dublin, in the meantime, would have grown by 11 million plus passengers. How could anyone argue with that?

“It’s not Dublin Airport’s fault. The people there must get credit for their success. What we need is government policy that will ensure even a respectable share of the growth for the other airports. It would be completely in keeping with Project Ireland 2040.”

Mr Vaughan added: “We are now about to build Irish aviation from scratch again so it would be reneging on the objectives of the 2040 plan if government did not intervene and deliver the positive discrimination that the Tánaiste talked about to ensure the airports in the region get a share that can sustain them.

“Whatever it takes, airlines must be incentivised to fly out of Shannon and the other airports.

“So, what we are saying today is that we need intervention, including the implementation of recommendations on the Taskforce for Aviation. We need it quickly or we will be in a worse situation after Covid than we were before it.

“This is entirely in the hands of the government and it’s not just we today who are demanding action.

“The regions are demanding action and no one can argue against it. It is only right.”

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