THE extent to which Shannon Airport is at the mercy of Aer Lingus was highlighted this week when the airline cut one of its Shannon to Heathrow services to meet a restriction on passenger numbers at the London airport.
Describing the lack of certainty around Shannon Airport’s Heathrow route as a political failure of the past, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on tourism and aviation Cathal Crowe said it pointed to bigger problems for Shannon and the Mid West region.
“Over the past decade, the government has sold its entire stake in the Aer Lingus company and the airline has now been subsumed into IAG, which is largely based in Madrid and London,” the Meelick-based TD explained.
“The landing slots which were once ringfenced for Aer Lingus on the Shannon-Heathrow service now belong to IAG and it’s now up to them on a commercial whim to decide where and how these slots should be used.
“In 2015, the government sold its last share of Aer Lingus and secured a guarantee from IAG that Shannon’s Heathrow slots would remain protected until the autumn of 2022. We’re now only weeks out from this guarantee expiring and the government has no legal basis to secure a new guarantee.
“We’re now very much at the mercy of Aer Lingus and the IAG group overall,” he declared.
“The Shannon to Heathrow service has been very successful and, prior to the onset of the Covid pandemic, carried a large body of passengers. On that basis, I expect that the service will continue long into the future, but it will no longer enjoy guaranteed status.
“The people who work in the aviation sector and have staunchly supported Shannon Airport for years, can feel let down by politicians in the past who undersold the airport and ensured through their actions that its status would be diminished.
“While we all love to see Ryanair planes taking off to sun destinations, Shannon’s core business revolves around transatlantic services and the all-important link to the international hub that is Heathrow.
“The lack of security for this route is a political failure of the past and I don’t see a pathway for reinstating any guarantees at this time. Like many European airports, Shannon will now exist in a commercial bubble where its key routes are nailed down on a season-by-season basis.
“Despite this, it must be acknowledged that Shannon is currently experiencing a recovery growth in the post-Covid period far greater than anyone would’ve expected.
“It’s now imperative that all political efforts are channelled towards securing an additional European hub, such as Frankfurt, to ensure that future reliance isn’t all concentrated on one hub airport, to the exclusion of others,” Deputy Crowe concluded.