DURING a previous crisis Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary made a typically exaggerated claim that tumbleweed would be blowing through Shannon Airport, so quiet would it become, but even O’Leary couldn’t have foreseen what it would be like in the winter of 2020.
With no scheduled flights at all in operation, the airport still remains open, but there is virtually nothing happening there. It still gets some cargo flights and some transit, but the terminal building is nearly vacant.
Only a handful of people, nearly all of them employed on the premises, were there on Wednesday morning.
Huge areas were entirely vacant, while screens showing arrivals and departures were bare, while the check in areas were closed.
The restaurant on the ground floor was open for takeaways, but there was little demand there. At the newsagents across from it, the sole worker there had the shelves and coolers perfectly stocked, but he was a solitary figure on the premises until the Clare Champion arrived.
A pleasant Kilkenny native named Ed, he is one of only two workers left from 25 that were employed there back in the Spring.
While the shop is undeniably quiet, he said there’s enough for him to do. “When it’s gone from 25 to two you have to do everyone’s job. We’re open for a limited time now, just a few hours for staff and people working here, we have a couple of transit flights every now and again. Cargo planes come here too and the crew would get off, five or six of them, but that’s about it at this moment in time.”
He feels there is little that can be done about the situation right now. “It is what it is, the pandemic is the pandemic. The Government has to do what it thinks is best. Unfortunately we (Shannon) are the whipping boy always. When the airlines want to make a point to the Government they hit Shannon first, it’s always us first. I think it’s going to come back for the Christmas, but I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
This time last year Shannon had secured new services for 2020 and there was more optimism about the future than there had been for some time. While the year started well, it has been possibly the worst ever for the airport, with swingeing cutbacks necessitated by the collapse in traffic.
While it has been a disastrous 2020, Ed feels Shannon will thrive again. “The long term is decent here, they’re putting money into the place again, the medium term is decent even, but the short term is terrible.”
For the sake of Clare’s future, one must hope that he is right.
As it stands now Ryanair will resume some services in mid December, but there will be no transatlantic services for the foreseeable future, and the economically crucial Shannon-Heathrow service won’t be resuming until the Spring, at the earliest.
While aviation and associated industries all over the world have been rocked by Covid, the situation is more worrying for smaller airports such as Shannon. Recovery in the sector may begin quite soon, but convincing airlines to return to smaller centres of population is likely to be much more difficult than it will be at major cities, and it is widely felt that positive Government policies and financial supports will be required not just for Shannon, but other Irish airports apart from Dublin.