AFTER a nightmare few years, which have seen passenger numbers collapse and losses soar, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has promised there will be changes at Shannon Airport.
Last Saturday, he announced the commencement of a study of options for the future ownership of both Shannon and Cork, which will be carried out for the department by Booz and Company.
He said the financial losses at Shannon (believed to be in the region of €22,000 a day) are not sustainable, adding that regardless whether or not Shannon remains within the remit of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), major changes are required.
In a statement announcing the appointment of Booz and Co, the minister said, “In 2008, my predecessor Noel Dempsey postponed until 2011 making a decision on the separation of Cork and Shannon Airports, as envisaged under the State Airports Act 2004. It was the unanimous views of the Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airport Authorities at the time that, given the very difficult circumstances for the aviation sector, the climate was not right for separation.
“It falls on me now to consider this issue again. Some months ago, I asked the boards of the three authorities for their views again on separation. Given the current business environment and the recent trends in the aviation sector, I was not surprised to hear that there was no support for separation as originally envisaged, that is as three independent State companies.
“However, the present halfway-house arrangement in place since 2004, whereby Cork and Shannon have their own boards but have limited autonomy from the DAA, cannot continue indefinitely. Nor can the situation continue whereby losses at Cork and Shannon are absorbed by the remaining profitable parts of the DAA group.”
The minister has already obtained views from Shannon’s board on the future and it is understood the board recommended leasing the airport to a private company.
Clare TD Joe Carey agrees there is a need for change.
“It is now the duty of all stakeholders in the region to use this opportunity to have their input in the future direction of Shannon Airport. I have been advocating this approach for some time and am looking forward to presenting the consultants with a submission which I have worked on for the past number of months, following a process of engagement with business, tourist and political interests in the region.”
He feels it is an opportunity to stop the rot at Shannon. “For far too long Shannon Airport has been on a spiral of decline.
“The governance model is not working. Currently, there is no coherent longterm plan that anyone can point to, which maps a way forward for the airport. This will be a short, professional and expert review conducted with a view to putting a proper plan in place and analysing what the best way forward for Shannon is. We in the Mid-West need to grasp this opportunity with both hands and, in so doing, change the fortunes of our airport for the better.”
Deputy Pat Breen added that all interested parties should make their views known to Booz and Co.
“I am appealing to all interested stakeholders in this region to fully engage with the consultants.
“Shannon Airport is the key economic driver in this region and a strong and vibrant airport can lead the way to economic recovery in the Mid-West.”
Split over leasing proposal
A FEW years ago a sign was erected at the entrance to Shannon referring to the airport as ‘Ryanair country’, so numerous were that airline’s services there.
Most of those have since been cancelled and with the airport losing €8 million a year, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has indicated that change is required. Indeed, the airport’s own board is said to have recommended to him that it be leased out to private interests.
At the airport on Tuesday afternoon there were few passengers around, with a huge amount of unoccupied parking spaces.
Maurice Sheehan drives a hackney at Shannon. He says the contrast from three or four years ago is quite stark.
“I’ve been here 20-odd years and there have been major, major changes, not all for the good, I’m afraid. The last few years have been terrible; a lot of the time there is very few people here. When Ryanair were here there was action and people were here all the time.”
One woman working for an airline at Shannon said she feels if private investors are involved, they might revitalise the airport. “I think if they got businessmen in here who would want to make a profit they might have a bit more interest in it. I don’t think it’s been marketed enough. If other people got into it they would market it in the way they would a regular business. Having said that, privatisation isn’t always the way to go.”
She feels being under the Dublin Airport Authority banner hasn’t helped Shannon. “I don’t think I’ve had a secure job since I got here nearly 20 years ago. Maybe breaking up the three airports would help because I do think Shannon suffers in the partnership, definitely there’s an emphasis on Dublin and, to an extent, on Cork.”
She says Shannon has advantages now that it didn’t enjoy in the past but it isn’t getting much of a boost from them. “The infrastructure is there and we have the facilities but the routes aren’t coming in. I think if there was a bit more marketing we might get more passengers in.”
One of her colleagues said his temporary contract is up next month and then he’s emigrating to Canada. “Ideally, I’d have liked to stay here but there’s nothing here. I’d probably have had to have waited until next summer to get back here.”
Brian Kilroy works for a car hire firm at Shannon. He says the State should retain some involvement in the airport.
“If it is privatised or semi-privatised I think it’d be important that there be some Government participation, although the bit of independence wouldn’t be any harm.
“It’s important that Shannon be marketed abroad, especially in America.”