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Ó Céidigh takes up ‘the most challenging job in Irish aviation’

TUESDAY’S unveiling of former Aer Arann boss Pádraig Ó Céidigh as the next Chairman of Shannon Group was almost universally welcomed in Clare, given the Galway man’s depth of experience.
He comes in at a very uncertain time for the airport, as it seeks to find its niche in a changed aviation landscape.
“I actually believe that the time we are in now is the most challenging time in the history of Shannon Airport. As a result of that my role as the non-executive Chairman is probably the most challenging job in Irish aviation,” he told The Clare Champion on Wednesday.
While one could see that as taking pressure off himself, that doesn’t seem to be his intention, because he also sets targets for his three year term that may not easily be realised.
“Success to me in three years would be to get back to 2019 levels, with the passenger numbers and broadly the routes we had in 2019. The industry is saying it’ll be 2026 or so before the whole sector in Europe is back to 2019 levels. Instead of getting there in five years I want us to get there in three years.
“I’m setting a pretty ambitious goal to be honest with you, I’m happy to put that out there publicly, that that’s the ambition, it might fail but we’ll give it our best shot.
“It’s a challenging thing to get there in three years, I think it’s very ambitious but we’ve got to be ambitious.”
There was frustration in the midwest that a man with a background in agribusiness was almost appointed to the role earlier in the year, but Ó Céidigh brings a wealth of relevant experience, having remortgaged his house to buy Aer Arann before massively expanding the airline.
His knowledge of aviation is very clear in conversation as he talks fluently about the share prices of different airlines, the supports various European governments have offered and what the post pandemic environment will be like, with a number of the smaller players having gone to the wall.
Across the west of Ireland’s business community there would be huge admiration for what Mr Ó Céidigh did with Aer Arann and there was a very broad welcome for his appointment this week, given his previous successes.
But when the role initially became available following the departure of Rose Hynes in the summer of 2020, he didn’t apply, before reconsidering when it was re-advertised earlier this year.
“First of all I didn’t go for it. I didn’t go for it because I had a lot on my plate.
Before it I had spent four years in the Seanad, I gave the Seanad 100% and my businesses suffered to some degree as a result, because my eye wasn’t on that ball, it was on the Seanad.
“I don’t regret it, I’m happy I put the effort into the Seanad, I was privileged to be there. After that I restructured some of my businesses and I got out of some things, which freed up my time a bit more. That was one factor.
“The other factor, I feel very passionate about Ireland, particularly regional Ireland and the west of Ireland.
“Shannon is an absolutely essential part of the infrastructure for the west of Ireland, particularly the mid-west.
“Also, a number of politicians and business people approached me and asked me would I be willing to put my hat in the ring and consider going for it.
“I didn’t think I could make a big difference, but there were people out there, a lot of whom I respect, who said that you will be able to make a contribution and make a difference.
“Honest to goodness, if I can make a difference I’m absolutely delighted and privileged to do so, I really, really am, there’s nothing that gives me greater satisfaction than if I can do something that makes a difference, particularly to rural Ireland.
“I do know aviation pretty well, now I’ve made lots of mistakes in aviation, like we all have in life, but that’s just par for the course, that’s normal.”
He says that Shannon is facing a totally different challenge to an airport like Dublin, which has a vastly greater potential market to entice airlines.
“The big airports like Dublin will probably come back to 2019 pre-pandemic levels pretty quickly, in probably two to three years. There are a number of smaller airports throughout Europe that are closed down or closing down because they can’t keep going.
“Shannon Airport is in a very challenging position, not of its own doing, but because you’re talking about less than two million passengers, compared to 33 or 34 million in Dublin, and it’s all about numbers.
“It’s a huge, huge challenge, but that’s one of the biggest reasons I took it on. I like big challenges, I like giving it my best shot, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work, I’ve failed lots of times.
“I can’t guarantee it’s going to work, all I can do is guarantee I’m going to to give it my best shot as chairman and work closely with the Chief Executive Mary Considine, the management team and the rest of the board in doing what we can to give it every chance to come back.”
He identifies key stakeholders to the future success of Shannon including the Government, the airlines, Shannon’s staff and the people of the region, whose support will be crucial.
“The people of the region that we’re serving, primarily Limerick, Clare, Galway, West Tipperary especially, the people of that area will really have to step up to the mark and say if we can fly out of Dublin or Shannon let’s fly ten times out of ten from Shannon.
“The way airlines operate, and I created one and ran one for years,they’ll say use it or lose it. If we can convince an airline to start a service, if the airline does not get sufficient passengers on that service to make a profit, they’ll move the airplane somewhere else, to Manchester or London or Dublin, where you’ve a bigger population than you have in the Shannon region.”
The first priority will be re-establishing Ryanair and Aer Lingus services, particularly the strategically vital Heathrow link, which might not be operating at the moment, but for the temporary closure of Cork’s runway.
While he says getting the core right will be the first priority, he’s the type of person who always wants to go further.
“I wanted to get on the Spiddal U-16 hurling team, managed to get on that, that was a big thing. I said now I want to get on the county minor team.
“I didn’t do it in hurling, but I did in football, I always want to get further and that’s particularly my nature.”

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.

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.