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Considine feels optimistic as non-essential travel resumes

WHEN non-essential international travel resumes next week it will be the most significant step forward for crisis-stricken Shannon Airport since Covid-19 arrived last year.
The airport faces a very difficult path back to sustainability, as airports away from major cities are likely to be much slower to recover.
Nevertheless, the recovery is at least beginning, and CEO Mary Considine said there is something to be positive about now.
“There is an air of optimism around the place. Next week, with the lifting of the ban on non essential travel and the adoption of the Covid digital cert, these are important milestones,” she told The Clare Champion.
“We have a very long road back to recovery to anything like pre pandemic levels of traffic, but it’s important to recognise that this is a significant step.”
Around 40 staff availed of redundancy during the pandemic, while many others have had reduced working hours, but some of those reductions are being reversed as the level of business at the airport increases.
Ryanair resumed a limited number of services at Shannon at the start of June, but that is about to be ramped up now.
“They are increasing their services now up to 14 from this weekend and it’ll increase further in August, so we’ll have 16 routes operating here through the summer period, which goes to the end of October.
“It is starting to build back up. It does give a certain amount of confidence.”
She says the industry has noticed that enthusiasm about travelling is on the rise, as the process involved is becoming clear.
“What we’re hearing from the airlines is that in the last two weeks particularly, there’s been certainty about the date and the process with the digital Covid cert; it’s starting to put confidence back in.
“There certainly seems to be a pick up in demand and enquiries in the last week to ten days, so that kind of gives us some level of optimism. Frequencies will still be down on normal activity, on 2019 level, but it is starting to build back up.”
While there will be a number of European services back at Shannon, Heathrow and US connectivity is vital to this region, for business and tourism reasons and there is still no certainty about it being restored.
Although the future is still uncertain, Ms Considine believes those flights will return. “Based on our conversations, we are hoping that we will have connectivity back into Heathrow this year, but it’s likely to be Spring of 2022 before we will have US services back. There’s nothing confirmed, this situation is evolving and it depends how the market is at the time, but we would be confident that we will get them back.
“But again, the airlines need to be supported, they have lost significant amounts of money and they will need to be supported through their own recovery.”
The Irish State needs to support the resumption of vital services away from Dublin, she believes. “As an island nation we’re so reliant on aviation, it’s not just passenger numbers through the airport, but it’s the businesses they support and the whole tourism/hospitality sector is reliant on connectivity and services into Shannon. It’s been a really difficult 16 months and we have a very long road back.
“As a sector we’ve probably gone through the worst crisis in the history of aviation, it will be a long road to recovery, probably more challenging for airports outside of the capital, so it will be more challenging to get regional connectivity back.
“We’ve been consistent with Government that this sector needs to be supported through the recovery. When you lose connectivity you can’t just take it for granted that it’s going to come back. It’s starting to build from scratch again.”
Airports with the amount of passengers Shannon has can now be given State support for capital expenditure, due to a change in EU guidelines, and Ms Considine says Irish airports apart from Dublin require this.
“I think it’s important now that as we come through this pandemic and start to rebuild that a multi annual funding arrangement would continue for the regional airports.”
Many other countries have moved to protect connectivity, and she feels support specific to the sector is required in Ireland.
“If you look across Europe, airlines in particular have been supported. Countries, for the very reason of protecting connectivity, have supported their airlines and their airports.
“As a sector we have availed of things like the wage support scheme and rates waiver, but they’re open to every business. Our sector was worse impacted because we’re effectively restricted from operating until now.
“That’s where a stimulus package for the airline industry, with a particular focus on stimulating air connectivity into the regions, that will be very important.”
In general, the aviation sector is going to take several years to recover, she says, “If you look at what the markets are telling us and the likes of the Airports Council International and the International Air Transport Association, they’re looking at a baseline recovery case of 2025, before we’d be back up to 2019 levels. They have been consistent on that and there’s isn’t any indication to say that’s going to happen sooner.
“There will be certain routes that will come back quicker, but again because of the amount of losses that the industry has incurred, and the consolidation that will occur as a consequence of that, it is going to take time to build back up.
“Even though we’re seeing routes come back which is great, it’s at reduced capacity. Until there is confidence that people are definitely going to travel, there won’t be an increase in capacity. It takes a while, an airline can’t mobilise overnight, they’re going to need to be confident that the market is there and the demand will be there.
“I do want to recognise that the supports the Government have given have been very important, but we know it’s going to be a slow recovery and supports are going to be important throughout it.”
It was recently announced that Shannon Heritage sites such as Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and King John’s Castle, will transfer to the relevant local authorities.
Ms Considine says this will allow a greater focus on restoring connectivity, which will help those same attractions.
“As a region we’re coming together to see how can we all contribute to the recovery of the region. The transfer of the Heritage business and sites to the local authorities is aligned with our own tourism strategies and it enables us to focus our resources and concentrate our efforts on the recovery of connectivity and airline traffic and obviously growing our aviation cluster. But particularly the restoration of critical connectivity will be very important.
“The Heritage sites as you know are heavily reliant on international visitors, so we really need to concentrate efforts on getting that connectivity back and that’ll benefit the Heritage sites. It’s a good fit with the local authorities, it’s aligned with their own strategies.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.
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