RYANAIR Group CEO Michael O’Leary praised the negotiating skills of Shannon Airport’s management when he appeared at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport & Aviation on Wednesday.
In a question to Mr O’Leary Clare TD Cathal Crowe rather casually mentioned that the airline plays “hardball” with Shannon, but the Ryanair boss said the Shannon management wouldn’t easily be rattled.
“Firstly Deputy, nobody hardballs Mary Considine (Shannon Airport group CEO). If anything the hardballing goes in the other direction. The management of Shannon Airport are tough operators,” he said.
— Cathal Crowe T.D. (@CathalCroweTD) November 30, 2022
Mr O’Leary said that Dublin’s domination of Irish aviation is somewhat inevitable.
“If you’re talking about international aviation I always like to quote the example of Bristol. Within an hour of it there are ten million people, but there’s one airport.
“We’re a country, if you take the Republic there’s a population of five million people and if you include the north seven million. There are 13 airports if you include the north and 11 if you take just the Republic. We are massively over-airported, nobody likes to hear that, but that’s the reality.”
He said that Shannon does have a future, but several other Irish airports don’t.
“In reality we think there’s a viable future for Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Knock. There is no viable future for Donegal, no viable future for Sligo, no viable future for Galway or for Waterford and the money we spend on PSOs at those airports, and we spend heroic sums, is completely wasted.
“Kerry, has a future, but even in our ambitious plans we see its traffic going from 400,000 to 600,000.”
Ryanair DAC CEO Eddie Wilson told the sitting that with the right national policies in place, Shannon’s passenger numbers could grow very significantly.
“Shannon could grow by about 50% over the next number of years. It’s at about one million passengers at the moment and with the right policy I think we can develop it further.”
Mr O’Leary said Dublin actually benefits the rest of Ireland.
“Just be careful. Dublin is dominant but we’re better off to have a successful Dublin.”
Passengers need to be facilitated to get to the capital if that’s what they want, said Mr Wilson, and he said that if Shannon wants more passengers it will have to have the demand.
“You can’t do this thing of trying to grab the passengers from one part of the country and take them to the other. Over 50% of the people are incoming and they want to come to Dublin rather than Shannon.”
Deputy Joe Carey questioned how quickly the Shannon passenger growth could come about.
Mr O’Leary said that it can happen much more quickly if taxes were to be rebalanced across the continent.
“We’re linking this to Ireland successfully rebalancing environmental taxation across Europe.
“If the Irish government joined with other peripheral states and said we are no longer willing to accept that our passengers pay all of the environmental burden, and the environmental tax came down from €4.50 per passenger to €2 we would deliver the additional growth in Shannon and Cork within three years.”
While such a small reduction mightn’t seem significant, he said that passengers are hugely price sensitive.
“If they didn’t mind €2 we’d have taken it off them 25 years ago!” O’Leary quipped.
He also said it is imperative for Shannon and Cork to be more competitive than Dublin. “They must be materially cheaper than Dublin. There is no other way.”
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.