IN 2015 political concerns about the sale of the State’s share in Aer Lingus to IAG were addressed in part by a commitment from the new owners to keep Shannon-Heathrow connectivity in place until September 2022.
However that is now just around the corner, and while there hasn’t been very much discussion about the issue publicly, there is real concern about the future of the Heathrow slots, which are absolutely vital for Clare tourism and the many multinational companies in the Mid-West.
“There is still a great concern that they will go. There’s no doubt that there are people using them, but the fact of the matter is the slots can be used for any route and there could be other routes that could give a better yield,” said Lahinch hotelier Michael Vaughan this week.
“That has always been a concern and we were seeking guarantees previously on that, which of course amounted to what we got. You’d have to be concerned, yes, because there haven’t been any utterances by Aer Lingus that they are there in perpetuity or that they’ll be there for the foreseeable future.”
Heathrow is a major global hub, offering a fantastic level of onward connectivity, and Shannon has no other link to a major hub on this side of the Atlantic, so any diminution of the link would potentially have very serious economic implications.
However, Mr Vaughan said that with the State no longer having a role in Aer Lingus, it’s hard to see how the connectivity could be protected.
“The other question you’d have to ask is what realistically can be achieved, given that the company is now a PLC and in international ownership. Is there any way at all that the slots could be guaranteed for Shannon going forward. The concern is there, but people are having such a good rebound in the tourism sector at the moment, that it has probably gone without notice.”
Only a handful of other European airports such as Frankfurt and Schiphol in Amsterdam can offer anything like the level of connectivity that Heathrow has, and he warned that losing the Heathrow slots, as happened briefly in 2008 before a U-turn by the airline, would be a disaster.
“It’d be unthinkable to lose them into the future, it’d be a huge body blow to Shannon. It’s probably the main pillar of connectivity that we have.”
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.