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*Photograph: Joe Buckley

Chambers of Commerce in the Mid-West have expressed their confidence that the Minister for Transport is committed to improving connectivity into Shannon Airport following a one hour meeting this week.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Eamon Ryan (GP) and Minister of State at the Department of Climate Action and Transport Hildegarde Naughton (FG) facilitated a virtual meeting on Monday with the joint chambers at short notice in light of growing concerns about Shannon Airport and the impact COVID-19 on air travel and access to western regions.

During the one hour meeting the four chambers highlighted the critical importance to business in the regions of access to European and transatlantic markets. They urged the Government to work with the airlines to protect slots and asked for conditions to be attached to any funding packages for Aer Lingus and Ryanair that routes into regional airports be restored and further strategic routes be developed.

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They believed the Ministers were in favour of addressing aviation policy in line with the goals of Project Ireland 2040.

“Engagement at the meeting was strong; the Ministers were both very aware of the challenges that Shannon faces in the short-term because of COVID and in the longer term around route development and aviation policy,” Helen Downes, CEO of Shannon Chamber commented.

Connectivity into the country can be revised in the midst of the pandemic, CEO of Ennis Chamber, Margaret O’Brien outlined. “With the Mid West and West so heavily reliant on tourism and hospitality sector, it begs the question why 96% of all new airline routes developed for the country go into Dublin.”

Limerick Chamber CEO, Dee Ryan believed the meeting demonstrated “the seriousness” that both Minister Ryan and Junior Minister Naughten are treating the current situation at Shannon Airport. “This was an urgent meeting for the Chambers on a matter of critical importance to our members and the regional economy. It was encouraging that the Ministers prioritised the issue and coordinated their diaries to take the meeting together at short notice”.

Introducing policy change to aid the growth of the region was agreed upon, Kenneth Deery, CEO of Galway Chamber reflected. “The Ministers were very aware of the direct link between airport growth and regional growth and we really impressed on them the need for policy change in the long term to ensure that, unlike the situation that prevailed as we emerged from the crash, the recovery is not just for Dublin Airport and the Dublin Region. We were very encouraged by their commitment on this and look forward to ongoing communications with them.”

Meanwhile, the Chambers welcomed the decision to adopt the European Union traffic light system for aviation as an important initial step for getting Ireland back flying but that a lot more needs to be done.

Ryan stated, “The Chambers urge government to be strategic in measures to support the recovery of the aviation sector. As an island nation heavily dependent on air access to the European market, we can not afford to allow airlines to fail or to miss this opportunity to reset regional connectivity for the benefit of the entire country”.

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