THERE is strong speculation this week that a new deal between Shannon Airport and Ryanair is about to be announced, which could deliver a number of new routes and an extra 350,000 passengers next year.
Ryanair has scaled back business at Shannon dramatically since 2008 and, on several occasions, placed the blame on the controversial air travel tax.
In Tuesday’s Budget it was announced that the tax will be scrapped from the start of next April. On Wednesday, the low cost airline said it would increase its Irish business by at least one million passengers next year.
After the Budget announcement, Ryanair outlined its plans. “Ryanair highlighted that since the travel tax was introduced in January 2009, traffic at the main Irish airports had declined from 30.5m passengers in 2008 to 23.5m in 2012. Ryanair believes that much of this traffic can now be recovered thanks to the abolition of the travel tax, which makes Ireland a more competitive and attractive destination for inbound visitors, particularly those on short flights from the UK and continental Europe.
“Ryanair will now respond positively to the Government’s initiative and announce plans to grow traffic to and from its Irish airports by at least one million passengers per annum from April 2104.
Ryanair has invited all the main Irish airports, Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Knock and Kerry, to meetings in Dublin on Thursday and Friday of this week to finalise these growth plans and how it can be split between the airports.
The statement claimed that up to half of the million passengers would be visitors to Ireland and it claimed around 1,000 jobs can be delivered.
More than one informed source told The Clare Champion Shannon is expected to get around 350,000 of the million passengers. That figure equates to one-quarter of all passengers at Shannon in 2012 and would be a huge boost for 2014.
However, Ryanair are saying, publicly at least, that the carve-up has yet to be decided.
“The list of routes and frequencies and the share of traffic growth will be finalised in talks with the Irish airports over the coming days.”
Shannon Airport Authority has not commented on the situation but released a statement on Tuesday welcoming the abolition of the travel tax.
“From a Shannon Airport perspective, we see this as a very timely and proactive move by Government to support air travel, as it effectively amounts to a stimulant for both our airline customers and the airport,” said airport CEO Neil Pakey.
On Wednesday, Clare’s Labour party TD, Michael McNamara, said talks on providing new routes were at an “advanced stage”.
He also said the possibility of providing new routes between Ireland and Germany is being explored and that while Shannon would be “a good fit”, there will be competition from Farranfore and Knock.
Fine Gael TD Pat Breen said Ryanair could potentially deliver a major boost to local tourism.
“I understand that Ryanair will now enter into discussions with the Shannon Airport Authority in relation to their growth plans for the airport and while the specifics have yet to be finalised, speculation is that this decision by Ryanair could deliver up to 350,000 passengers into Shannon Airport next year.
“It has returned to growth and the positivity about the airport is being translated into new routes and services. Today’s decision by Ryanair copperfastens the revitalisation of Shannon Airport, which is not only very good news for the airport but for the tourism and business sectors here in the county.”
His colleague, Joe Carey, said reducing the travel tax is a game-changer. “We have reduced the Travel Tax to zero, in an effort to generate additional air capacity and more flights to Ireland. This will also allow us, in a practical way, to build on the huge success of The Gathering, which saw a massive upsurge in overseas visitors to Ireland in 2013. We will see the real benefit of introducing such a measure as Ryanair are set to announce additional services, with Shannon to be a major beneficiary. The recovery in passenger numbers in Shannon Airport is well underway and is going from strength to strength with four months of consecutive growth.”
Shannon reached new heights during the Celtic Tiger, largely because of a major deal with Ryanair, which helped it achieve passenger numbers of over 3.6 million in 2006 and 2007. After the onset of recession, the low cost airline began cutting back its services from Shannon, which declined dramatically, with just under 1.4 million last year, the lowest since the late 1980s.
Shannon has been given a target of reaching 2.5 million passengers per annum by 2021, and getting a boost of anything like 350,000-a-year would be a major step towards that target.