THE Heathrow slots at Shannon could become vulnerable after the current obligation on IAG to retain them at the Clare airport expires in September 2022, but with airlines now requiring public support, there is an opportunity for the Government to secure the connectivity.
That’s the view of Lahinch hotelier Michael Vaughan, a former President of the Irish Hotels Federation.
“Those slots are in the hands of IAG now to do what they want. I think it’s a very serious concern and I’m glad it’s being raised. It was on a lot of people’s minds before the pandemic.
“Now IAG are asking the UK government for an immediate bilateral to establish an air corridor between the US and the UK. You could be looking at a greater yield on them for transatlantic as opposed to Shannon. I’d fear for it, certainly.
“I know there were attempts earlier on to ensure that what amounted to State aid to Aer Lingus would be given on the caveat that there would be protection of those slots. I didn’t hear if that ever materialised.”
When speaking about it in the Dáil last week, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said the future of the slots would be a matter for IAG, but Mr Vaughan says that in the current circumstances, the Irish Government has an opportunity to protect Shannon.
“I think the State can have influence. The future of Aer Lingus in this country is bound to whatever incentives the State can offer in the next year or two years. Aviation is going to require a lot of Government help all over the world and surely it can be tied into regional aviation policy. I believe there’s an opportunity.”
Mr Vaughan pointed out the Heathrow connectivity is essential for maintaining and increasing the level of Foreign Direct Investment in the Mid-West.
He worries Eamon Ryan is not the right man to help Shannon. “Having a Green guy in charge of transport, I’m not sure aviation will get the priority it deserves. I worry an awful lot for Shannon, in terms of policy I don’t think we’ve ever been as hard done by.
“Policy doesn’t favour the regional airports at all at the moment. Dublin Airport seems to be bounding ahead with all kind of plans, they’ve just announced a terminal hotel, a 400 bed hotel right into the departure gates.
“Here in Clare we’ve been focusing an awful lot on the local management of the airport and the local governance, but in my view the future of Shannon is governed more by our national aviation policy than by any ability the airport has.”
Dublin Airport has grown at a far greater rate than any other Irish airport in recent years, with almost all growth in traffic to Ireland since the recession being there. Mr Vaughan feels this reflects the State’s approach to aviation in recent years.
“There’s no political support at all for the regional airports. You don’t get the impression that within the coalition there’s a well thought-out strategy and understanding of the value of a regional airport. I think that Cork Airport seems to be heading in this direction as well, I think they have their difficulties and talking to my hotel colleagues down there they feel that post-Covid aviation policy could be drifting towards having one central airport in the country.”
Meanwhile, asked about the future of the Shannon-Heathrow service this week, a spokesperson for Shannon Group said: “Pre the Covid-19 pandemic, Aer Lingus operated three Heathrow services a day into Shannon demonstrating its success and the importance of the service to the economic wellbeing of our region. Government support for the aviation industry will be very important for the recovery of the sector and as a member of the National Civil Aviation Development Forum (NCADF), Shannon Group contributed to a plan to restart aviation recovery which has been put to the Minister for Transport. Shannon Group is urging Government to implement the plan and we look forward to the resumption of the Aer Lingus Heathrow services once restrictions are eased.”
Aer Lingus was also contacted on Tuesday, but no response had been received at the time of writing.
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.