The vacuum created by Aer Lingus continuing to leave Shannon Airport dangling regarding the future of their Mid-West operation has opened the door for other airlines to step in and capitalise at their expense.
That’s the opinion of Clare Fine Gael Deputy Pat Breen, who has questioned the wisdom of bolstering traffic into Dublin Airport when spare capacity and huge challenges are facing Shannon Airport.
Welcoming the news that Continental Airlines is to expand its summer schedule from Shannon to Newark, Deputy Breen believes the availability of US pre-clearance facilities at Shannon is key to Continental’s decision.
He says their commitment to Shannon Airport is in stark contrast to the national airline, Aer Lingus, who has failed to sign up to use the facility.
“News that Continental Airlines is adding an additional service from Shannon Airport four times weekly during the months of June, July and August is a vote of confidence by the airline in Shannon and the region.
“Since Continental Airlines’ inaugural flight landed in Shannon in 1998, they have developed an all-year-round service from this region serving Newark, which is a major hub, handling over 30 million passengers and serving over 165 destinations in the United States and Canada,” he said.
He said with the vacuum created by Aer Lingus continuing to leave the airport dangling regarding the future of their transatlantic services from Shannon, other airlines like Continental are stepping in. “Continental can offer passengers a much more pleasant travel experience on arrival in the United States compared to Aer Lingus’ Shannon-departing passengers, who have to endure lengthy queues of up to four hours on arrival in the US as a direct result of Aer Lingus’ failure to sign up to use the US-pre clearance facility in Shannon,” Deputy Breen added.
“This year will be a very difficult and challenging year for Shannon Airport. The airport is facing a real test in terms of trying to replace European services being abandoned by Ryanair following the irretrievable breakdown in talks between the airline and SAA prior to Christmas and the uncertainty regarding Aer Lingus plans for the Shannon operation.
“The policy adopted over the past 20 years of promoting more and more business into Dublin Airport while there is spare capacity available at Shannon Airport, in my view, is seriously flawed. In the aftermath of the introduction of Open Skies, as predicted by the Dukes/Sorreson Report, it is clear that an ever-increasing number of new routes and airlines are being encouraged to fly direct into Dublin and the suspicion among many here in the Mid-West is that it is being made more attractive for them to do so by either direct or indirect marketing ploys.
“I want to see this new route incentive scheme extended to Shannon Airport and, furthermore, what I would like to see is an even better and more innovative scheme put forward to encourage business development at our local airport. In response to the controversial decision by Aer Lingus to axe their Shannon-Heathrow Service three years ago, the Government commissioned a group of senior officials to report on the implications of the decision at the time for Shannon Airport. That report highlighted the importance of connectivity to mainland Europe, adding that ‘there are a number of excellent opportunities to increase visitor numbers to Shannon’ and that ‘the aim will be to increase marketing activity in three catchment areas in Belgium, Germany and France’.
“Following the decision by Ryanair not to enter a new agreement with the SAA, there is a window of opportunity now for Aer Lingus to expand their operation at Shannon and rebuild their relationship with the Mid-West Region. The welcome return and expansion of their Shannon-Heathrow Service, with the airline committing to basing an aircraft at the airport, is an ideal opportunity for them to open new routes to various European destinations. The fact that they are basing an aircraft at Shannon and reducing their services at Gatwick means that they have the aircraft available to operate the routes.
“It is an opportune time now for the airport to come up with new and innovative proposals to bolster passenger numbers and the DAA cannot be allowed to continue to develop Dublin Airport at Shannon’s expense,” Deputy Breen said.
Fine Gael TD Joe Carey said Aer Lingus should follow the lead of Continental and maintain and increase their transatlantic business through Shannon Airport.
Deputy Carey said that Continental are benefiting from the presence of full US pre-clearance facilities at the airport and that Aer Lingus’ refusal to utilise this service makes no business or commercial sense.
“Continental’s decision proves that Shannon continues to be an attractive gateway between Ireland, Europe and the US. The presence of full US pre-clearance at Shannon was undoubtedly a reason for Continental adding to their business through the airport. I hope now that tourist bodies in the region will work to promote and support Continental’s decision,” he said.
“This decision raises question marks as to Aer Lingus’ continued refusal to avail of pre-clearance facilities at Shannon. As Continental’s increased routes show, there is business through Shannon for transatlantic routes. I would again encourage Aer Lingus to reconsider their short-sighted refusal to use this facility and continue to build on their transatlantic services at Shannon.”