SOME good news for Clare arrived on Wednesday with the reopening of Shannon Airport to scheduled passenger flights.
The first flight back was one from Vienna, while flights also caem from Manchester and Lanzarote. There were also return flights scheduled to the same destinations.
Shannon had to introduce a range of anti Covid-19 measures to deal with the reopening, with more than 4,000 pieces of signage installed, along with multiple sanitiser dispensers, hand sanitation stations and disinfectant wipes throughout the airport.
Ryanair has started 16 routes to and from Shannon, and while that is obviously welcome, it is also an illustration of how dependent the airport is on the low fares airline.
This week there were reports that Ryanair has issued a memorandum to pilots, warning them that it could actually close its Shannon and Cork bases, if they don’t comply with a range of cost saving measures.
Last year, it was forecast that around 775,000 Ryanair passengers would travel through Shannon in the next 12 months, and it has been the most significant airline using the airport for a number of years now.
Local county councillor Pat McMahon said that if Ryanair did pull out, it would leave a huge void. “It would be horrible in the extreme. They are the first airline to come back and they offer a huge amount of connectivity to the UK, to London and to Liverpool and Manchester. They also offer flights to holiday destinations all year round. It would be the last thing the airport needs.”
Both Ryanair and trade union Fórsa were approached for comment on Wednesday, but no reply had been received at the time of writing.
Councillor McMahon said that the loss of Ryanair on a permanent basis would have a serious impact on the local economy, and would be much worse than the loss of other routes in recent times, as unwelcome as those were.“Other blows that have happened wouldn’t be as severe as Ryanair going would be.”
Meanwhile, general manager of Durty Nelly’s Maurice Walsh said that the airport reopening is a welcome development. “We knew in our model for reopening that the airport would be weak, because of international travel, so we have concentrated on the domestic market. If it were closed completely it would be a disaster altogether, with no connectivity to anywhere.”
Under normal circumstances he estimated that about 60% of Durty Nelly’s business would be airport related, although obviously that will be greatly reduced for the moment.
Mr Walsh said that the loss of Ryanair would be “very serious” and he said it is especially important with no transatlantic traffic now.
“I don’t see the US business coming back in the near future, but Ryanair are flying in Europe and the European market is opening up. If we’re going to have any season from that, Ryanair is crucial.”
He also said the early closure of Bunratty Castle will do huge damage not alone to Durty Nelly’s but to tourism businesses around Clare and the wider region.
“Our biggest problem is going to be the closure of Bunratty Castle. It’s going to rock the whole of the Mid-West. It’s going to have a huge effect on the area. People who are going on staycations need someplace to visit.”
Meanwhile, Ryanair criticised Minister Simon Harris and Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan through its press office’s Twitter account on Wednesday. One of the tweets it posted read, “Can T Holohan please explain what ‘science’ supports his call for Irish people to cancel travel to Greece when its Covid-19 rate is 15 times LOWER than Ireland? Fly Ryanair”.