THE dramatic nosedive in Shannon Airport’s flight schedule over the past year has prompted calls for the immediate implementation of a new business plan and multi-million euro marketing strategy to revive the airport’s flagging fortunes.
The calls coincided with yet another setback for the airport with Ryanair confirming a further 21% cut in its Shannon flights this winter. Airport traffic has dropped from 2.7m passengers in 2009 to under 1.6m passengers this year.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said the “treble whammy” of Shannon’s high costs, their refusal to extend Ryanair’s five-year base deal and the imposition of the €10 tourist tax has devastated traffic, tourism and jobs at Shannon Airport and the Mid-West region.
He said Shannon’s response to this traffic collapse, which is to impose a further 33% cost increase when the inflation is zero, demonstrates how out of touch it is with current market reality and how little they care about traffic, tourism or job development at Shannon.
From November 1, Ryanair’s Shannon-Paris route, which is currently four rotations per week, will close; the Shannon-Gatwick route will be cut from seven to six rotations per week while the Shannon-Stansted service will be reduced from 13 to 11 rotations per week.
Clare Fine Gael Deputy Joe Carey has called for a new business plan to make Shannon Airport more attractive to a wide range of airlines.
“Shannon Airport is paying a heavy price for the Government’s failure to implement the €53 million tourism and marketing plan for the airport. Only €3m has been spent to promote tourism in the West of Ireland,” he claimed.
His concern was echoed by Councillor Patricia McCarthy who stressed the DAA has a responsibility to ensure all airports including Shannon were profitable and operating to their maximum potential.
“When services were there in Shannon, people were using them. We have put too many eggs in one basket by relying too much on Ryanair and now Shannon is suffering. Shannon Airport should have gone for a better mix of charter and low cost flights.
“Shannon has no aviation policy or business plan. The new US Border Customs Pre-clearance hasn’t been properly promoted,” she said.
Concerns about the future of Shannon Airport were expressed at a special policy committee meeting on tourism on Monday when Councillor Pat McMahon claimed the recent €1.58 hike in passenger charges never came before the board of the Shannon Airport Authority.
Councillor PJ Ryan also claimed a recent advertisement in a Ryanair magazine promoted flights in every airport apart from Shannon. “The situation with the DAA is crazy, you can’t buy a stamp without the authority of the DAA who want to generate extra traffic for a ‘white elephant’ in terminal two,” he said.
Ennis hotelier John Madden said that all the organisations should get together and meet the Transport Minister, otherwise “there could be grass growing on the runway and everyone will suffer”.
Clare Community Forum representative, Pat Gaughan claimed Shannon Airport is akin to a “ghost town” with nothing happening.
“There seems to be a concerted effort to close down Shannon Airport. Shannon is becoming a local airport.”
Councillor Pat Daly called for a marketing strategy while committee chairman Councillor Richard Nagle said the group would invite the Shannon Airport Authority (SAA) chairman, Brian O’Connell, to address its next meeting.
A SAA spokesman said that while the need for the price increase was initiated in Shannon, it was approved by the DAA which is the only body with the authority to set charges.
Concern was also expressed at a recent regional Mid-West Regional Authority meeting where Councillor Leo Walsh requested the chairman of the Shannon Airport Authority to outline the reasons at their next meeting for the increase in passenger charges from November 1 next.
Shannon Airport recently decided to increase its aeronautical charges by €1.58 to €6.32 bringing it in line with prices at other regional airports such as Cork, Aberdeen, Southampton and Malmo. This is the first increase in prices at Shannon since 2004 while all landing charges and all other aircraft-related charges are being frozen at current levels.
“This is a small, but necessary, increase in overall charges that reflects the fact that Shannon is loss-making and needs to improve its viability,” said Shannon Airport director Martin Moroney.
“Even with this adjustment, airport charges at Shannon remain lower than those at Dublin and in line with those at other comparable airports.”