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Fears for Heathrow slots after ‘body blow’ to Clare tourism

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THERE are renewed concerns about the future of the Shannon to Heathrow slots in the wake of the latest “body blow” to tourism and business following a cutback in some weekly flights in order to meet the London airport’s cap on passenger numbers.

Aer Lingus has decided to cull one of its flights to Shannon from Heathrow ein a move, which may continue for a number of weeks.

The Shannon Group has been informed by Aer Lingus that selected flights on one of its three daily Aer Lingus services from Shannon to Heathrow have been cancelled due to London Heathrow’s mandated capacity reduction.

The group’s advice to passengers is to keep in contact with their airline for flight updates.”

The following flights were cut EI387/388 London Heathrow – Shannon – London Heathrow from Tuesday to this Thursday and the EI385 London Heathrow – Shannon on Saturday.

There are no cancellations planned for Friday or next Sunday.

Lahinch hotelier, Michael Vaughan described the latest cut as a “body blow” to tourism and business travel because this flight is very sought after for people going to or coming from another destination.

“It is a serious blow, which I hope will be corrected in the near future. This is a vital tourism link and it is critical to Shannon Airport this connection to a major hub remains.

“I hope a business case can be made for the return of this flight as soon as possible once the situation in Heathrow is resolved.

“In the last two weeks, I had several guests getting up very early to get a flight to Heathrow to get back to the United States of America.

“A lot of Americans use the air miles and loyalty points to get vacation flights generally into London and then getting a connecting flight into Ireland.

“This is part and parcel of the tourism business for many years. If you don’t have the availability through Heathrow, you will lose tourists. Heathrow is a vital gateway,” he said.

He pointed out the Chamber of Commerce in Connecticut can subsidise flights leaving this region, which Ireland can’t do because of EU state rules.

However, Mr Vaughan said Irish aviation policy needs to be changed to incentivise routes like the Shannon to Heathrow slot to promote more balanced regional development.

He said the government needs to devise more creative solutions to bring more airlines into Shannon Airport, which should have happened recently when there were long queues and delays in Dublin Airport. If the rail link was upgraded from Dublin to Shannon, he said it would offer more opportunities to divert flights to the Clare international airport.

“Any tourists I met in May would have preferred to fly through Shannon than experience the mayhem in Dublin Airport. The investment in security and screening makes Shannon a very attractive airport to use. People can get from check-in to the plane in under 20 minutes.”

“There should be a more flexible approach to increasing capacity in under-capacity airports like Shannon when Dublin Airport is experiencing difficulties,” he said.

Airlines have been instructed to cut flights from Heathrow in order to bring the number of outgoing passengers moving through the airport down to 100,000 a day between now and September 11.

In a statement, Aer Lingus said it will look to minimise disruption to passengers on the flights by reallocating them where possible to one of its other flights out of Heathrow.

Back in 2015, AIG gave a commitment to keep the Shannon to Heathrow connectivity in place until next September following the controversial government decision to sell its remaining share in Aer Lingus to the new owners.

This latest cut has prompted concern about the uncertainty surrounding the Heathrow slots, which are vital for tourism in the region, multinational companies and future foreign investment.

Shannon Chamber chief executive officer, Helen Downes said the Aer Lingus decision has nothing to do with the load factor coming out of Shannon or other airports as it is due to the daily passenger cap in Heathrow to address long delays.

Ms Downes welcomed ongoing engagement between the Shannon Group and the chamber on this issue.

“Businesses have had to address this scenario and while short term they have been able to do this until the flight returns. Passengers have been advised and companies are managing this which will continue until mid August.

“Once operational challenges are addressed we hope will lift this restriction at the end of the summer season. We will be watching this very carefully as will businesses directly as the desire and need to travel has increased,” she said.

Deputy Michael McNamara said it is unfortunate to see this flight being cut due to capacity issues in Heathrow before adding it has a disproportionate impact on Shannon compared to other airports because it has far fewer flights operating from Clare’s international airport.

The Independent Deputy is concerned about the future of the Heathrow slots when previous guarantees end next September following the “short-sighted” decision by the government to sell its remaining shareholding in Aer Lingus.

With most of EU countries able to utilise trains for public transport between countries, Deputy McNamara said this isn’t possible in Ireland, which relies on air connectivity for international travel.

He said it is important that Shannon Group management continue to pursue securing connection to another European hub.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Tourism and Aviation Cathal Crowe has labelled the lack of security around Shannon Airport’s Heathrow route as a political failure of the past.

“The landing slots, which were once ring-fenced for Aer Lingus on the Shannon-Heathrow service, now belong to the IAG company, and it’s now up to them on a commercial whim to decide where and how these slots should be used.

“We’re now only weeks out from this guarantee expiring and the government has no legal basis to secure a new guarantee. We’re now very much at the mercy of Aer Lingus and the IAG group overall.

“Commercially, the Shannon-Heathrow service has been very successful and prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic carried a large body of passengers.

“On this basis, I expect that the service will continue long into the future, but it will no longer enjoy guaranteed status.

“I think the people who work in the aviation sector, and indeed those in Clare and the wider Mid-West who have staunchly support Shannon Airport for years, can feel let down by politicians in the past who undersold the airport and ensured through their actions that its status would be diminished.

“While we all love to see Ryanair planes taking off to sun destinations, the core business of Shannon revolves around transatlantic services and the all-important link to the international hub that is Heathrow,” he said.

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