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Deputy Cathal Crowe (FF)

Finn and Dutch model shows way for Shannon, says Crowe

IRISH aviation has become more and more unbalanced over the last decade with Dublin increasingly dominant, leading to many calls for new national policy.

Speaking this week, Clare TD Cathal Crowe explained that there are options available, which have been successful in distributing traffic in other countries. “I think we need to leverage support for Shannon and the other airports, we are battling for Shannon but this for all airports. We either leverage funding off them, so the flights in Dublin are levied with a fund that goes to other airports. Another option, and I believe they have done this in a number of other countries, is that if an airline wants a landing slot in the capital, they can get it, but on condition that once or twice a week they also fly out of one of the other airports in the country. I think we could do that.”

He said that such a policy would help to spread services and business, without having to take on the power of Dublin. “It’d be very hard to dissuade airlines from landing in Dublin, but at least if the likes of Delta, American and KLM were conditioned to do one or two landings a week in Shannon, it would bring more activity to the region. This has been done successfully in Finland and Holland, where they reversed some of the dominance of the main airports. They were able to spread the traffic a little bit more evenly.”

When Shannon left the DAA group (it also included Dublin and Cork) at the start of 2013, there were forecasts of dramatic increases in traffic, which have not come to pass and Deputy Crowe said it is now time for another rethink. “I don’t think separation has served Shannon well, I think we either allow it to remain independent with heavy subsidisation coming in from Dublin, or we bring it back together with Dublin and Cork operating as a national aiport authority. A lot of European countries operate like that.”

However he said that if such a group does emerge, a situation cannot be allowed to develop where the group is run by Dublin management solely in the interests of Dublin airport. “I’d like to see it a little closer to Dublin but not under the cosh of Dublin and I think a national airports authority would work. They’ve done that in a lot of European countries but we need a policy that dictates that airlines bidding for slots in Dublin would have to fly once or twice a week to Shannon.”

The Meelick man said he has explained some of his views to the Taoiseach. “Prior to Covid Dublin was very profitable to the detriment of the other airports of Ireland. The whole model at the moment only reflects the whole idea of regional imbalance, with the capital bursting at the seams and the rest of Ireland struggling. I think policy is going to need to be overhauled and it has happened very successfully in Finland and Holland. I met the Taoiseach last week and I discussed those models with him and he’s asked me to submit a report on how that could potentially work for Shannon.”

Deputy Crowe has also said that the Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes should be rolled out at Shannon and potentially other Irish airports, apart from Dublin.

Under EU law a government can deem a rout to be of vital economic importance to a region and impose a PSO. These exist because the routes are not financially viable and what happens is the Goverment will restrict operating rights on the route in question and compensate the carrier’s losses under the PSO.

“At the moment, there are three operational PSOs in Ireland – one from Dublin and Donegal, one Dublin to Kerry and finally one between Connemara and the Aran Islands,” said Deputy Crowe.

“In France, by contrast, they have 37 PSOs, while the UK has 22 – so it’s a mechanism that the Irish government could avail of and would guarantee air connectivity over the next couple of years of aviation uncertainty. By expanding the remit of these types of routes, we could very easily give Shannon a serious leg up.

“I’d love to see the likes of Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam deemed to be of vital economic importance to our region, as well as targeting one into Britain.”

Summing up, he added, “With Covid likely to be with us for another two years and aviation potentially on a downward trajectory for another three or four years, I think we need to have these public service routes, at least one to Britain and two to continental Europe, to guarantee connectivity to Shannon in the turbulent years ahead.”

Owen Ryan