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Shannon Airport turnaround accelerates

SHANNON Airport saw passenger numbers increase by 17% in 2014, as its recovery continues.

The total number of passengers went from 1.4 million in 2013 to 1,639,315 in 2014. Such an increase is very welcome at an airport, whose survival was in doubt just two years ago.

In 2012, Shannon had just 1.394 million passengers, the lowest number since 1988. After its separation from the Dublin Airport Authority, the numbers kept falling in the early months of 2013, before beginning to move in the right direction in the second half of the year, with the overall figure slightly ahead of 2012.

In 2014 the recovery picked up momentum, with 10 new destinations and 16 service enhancements.

Following a deal with Ryanair, most of the 2014 growth was on European routes, with nine new destinations delivering a 70% increase in passengers. While the new services included some sun destinations, there were also high numbers of inbound visitors following the return of German links (Munich and Berlin), along with new services to Paris and Poitiers in France.

While most of the growth was on European services, transatlantic routes also performed very well. There was a 10% growth across Shannon’s five US services, Boston, Chicago, Newark, New York JFK and Philadelphia.

The UK is Shannon’s largest market and that recorded a 5% increase.

Welcoming the end-of-year figures, Shannon Group chair, Rose Hynes said, “We are really pleased to have achieved significant growth in 2014. Shannon Airport, in providing daily access to the US, UK and Europe, is a key economic driver for a region that stretches from the south up to the north-west. Our passenger numbers in 2014 have had a direct material impact on this region’s economy, with benefits for all our stakeholders.

“There are a number of factors that made this possible, not least Shannon’s ability to attract new services, the airlines’ confidence in Shannon, the Government facilitating this by removing the air travel tax and the global and local economic recovery starting to take hold,” she added.

“Now that we have built up strong momentum, we will use 2015 to further embed our new services and will continue to grow the overall passenger numbers,” Ms Hynes continued.

Shannon Group CEO Neil Pakey said the results were very satisfying.

“Our success, in just our first year as an independent entity, in ending five years of successive decline in passenger numbers in 2013, gave airlines the confidence to come in with a range of new services in 2014. The market responded accordingly, with passengers returning to Shannon as their airport of choice for access in and out of this region, for both business and tourism.”

He said Shannon had more than achieved its aims in 2014.

“Our target was for double digit growth and getting that up to 17% was very satisfying. Having more people from our catchment choosing to fly from here has been the most pleasing aspect of all. A big difference also was the opportunity for Shannon to emerge as the key access point for air travel for the Wild Atlantic Way, which had a very successful launch year in 2014 and is set to be a hugely successful project for Irish tourism in the years ahead.”

While increasing passenger numbers in 2014 is very welcome, 1.639 million is still less than half the passenger numbers Shannon had during the heady days of 2006 and 2007.

There are also storm clouds circling, with fears that Shannon could lose its crucial Heathrow connectivity, if Aer Lingus is sold to IAG (the holding company of British Airways).

If the new owners were to move the highly-prized Heathrow slots away from Shannon, it would be little short of a disaster for the airport and for Clare business. The slots are crucial because Heathrow is a global hub, offering connectivity to a massive array of global destinations.

The importance of the link to Clare tourism and business was demonstrated by the reaction when Aer Lingus transferred the slots to Belfast at the start of 2008, before restoring three of them.

Mr Pakey said Shannon management are watching the Aer Lingus situation closely. “We remain focussed on supporting our airlines by helping them to grow passenger numbers in 2015. We accept that the market has the capacity to throw up challenges and, to that end, we are closely monitoring events around the potential acquisition of Aer Lingus and the implications that may have on Heathrow slots.

“Shannon is the only airport on the western seaboard with connectivity to Heathrow, which gives businesses across the Mid-West and West with one-stop connectivity needed to access key markets across the world. The consequences for the region of the withdrawal of Heathrow services in 2007 (the decision to pull them was announced in August of that year) showed how essential they are and everything needs to be done to make sure history is not allowed to repeat itself.”

Labour TD Michael McNamara has written to Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe looking for assurances that the Shannon-Heathrow route would be protected in the event of the sale of the State’s 25% holding, while he said he intends to raise the matter in the Dáil in the coming days.

The Department of Transport were asked this week if there are any plans to preserve Shannon’s connectivity in the event of a sale, but their reply gave very little information.

“The Irish Takeover Panel has deemed Aer Lingus to be in an ‘Offer Period’ under the takeover rules, so the department will not be making any statement on the matter.

“The Government has previously publicly indicated that it remains open to the sale of its minority shareholding in Aer Lingus. In the meantime, the Government is continuing to manage its shareholding in a responsible manner to protect the State’s interests and with the aim of maximising the value of the shareholding.”

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