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Fears that Shannon’s Heathrow slots will go in 2022

TD accuses State of having no plan as Aer Lingus’ Shannon commitment runs its course

SHANNON Airport’s link to Heathrow could be removed from September of next year, with little sign that the Government has plans to preserve it.
The Heathrow link is provided by Aer Lingus, the former State airline, but there is no guarantee that will continue beyond next autumn.
In the Dáil Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said that whether Aer Lingus continues with it or not is a matter for the airline.
Heathrow is a global hub airport offering connectivity to a massive number of onward destinations, and the fact that Shannon has a link to it (albeit one temporarily suspended due to Covid-19) is vital to foreign direct investment and tourism in Clare and the surrounding counties.
In a parliamentary question, Clare TD Michael McNamara asked the Minister to outline actions that have been taken to ensure Shannon-Heathrow connectivity, given that the seven-year ownership of the Heathrow slots expires in 2022.
In his reply, Minister Ryan said it will be up to Aer Lingus whether they continue or not, while he gave no indication the State is working on the matter.
“Aer Lingus entered into certain commitments at the time of its acquisition by IAG in 2015 in relation to the operation of its London Heathrow slots. Subject to certain conditions being met at Irish airports, Aer Lingus’ connectivity commitments will remain in effect until 1 September 2022.
“There is no existing provision to further extend these commitments, and the operation of particular routes after this point will be commercial matter for the airline,” said the minister.
“Financial supports have been made available to Shannon Airport to support the recovery of routes in light of Covid-19 disruption,” he added.
Speaking to the Clare Champion on Tuesday, Deputy McNamara said that Minister Ryan’s response was a cause for concern.
“I would be very worried, undoubtedly those slots are a very valuable asset. The Government seems to be taking a view that it’s just a commercial decision for the airline. In that context Eamon Ryan’s response is almost encouraging Aer Lingus to look around and see how can they maximise the profit out of those landing slots.
Mary Considine (Shannon Group CEO) has been quite clear as has Joe Gilmore (Ireland West Airport Knock CEO) that it’s going to be a particular challenge to get airlines back into Shannon and Knock, there’s a risk that they will concentrate their activities on Dublin and on bigger airports generally, across Europe and across the world.
“Reading between the lines of that reply, I didn’t see any great willingness by the Government to put incentives in place for Aer Lingus to ensure that those slots are used for Shannon.”
A Labour party TD in 2015, Deputy McNamara was opposed to the State selling its remaining share in Aer Lingus.
“I felt that making it entirely just a matter of commercial practice was short sighted in an island nation which is reliant on connectivity.
“To say the rest of Europe are doing this is accurate, but it’s a very different situation, you can get a bus or a train from Brussels to Berlin, but we’re an island nation, so our connectivity is very circumscribed.”
He feels a laissez faire approach to aviation is not in the best interests of a country so reliant upon it, but he says Minister Ryan’s response indicates a willingness to continue on the current path.
“What we have had is effectively a ‘hands off’ policy for a considerable period of time now, since Open Skies (under which the Shannon stopover ended).
“Open Skies wasn’t an option for the Government, they had to adhere to it, but there were interventions that were possible given the fact that Ireland is an island nation and given our connectivity issues, the Government could and should have done more, and it could and should do more than just put their hands in the air as Eamon Ryan appears to be doing and saying ‘that’s life’.”
There is a need for a plan now that will ensure Shannon’s connectivity endures, he concluded.
“It’s stating the obvious but it’s important that we have an aviation plan soon that protects Shannon’s connectivity and encourages connectivity to new routes. Transatlantic and Heathrow are key to attracting FDI into the region.
“Those connections are strategically important to the Mid West and our whole FDI strategy has been built around those.”

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.