The resignation of former Aer Arann boss Pádraig Ó Céidigh from the role of Chairman of Shannon Group came as a shock to many when it was announced almost two weeks ago.
Having spent just five months in the job, alleged frictions between Ó Céidigh and senior management seemingly forced his hand as he tendered his resignation to Minister Eamon Ryan. This was ultimately accepted along with the swift announcement of Ó Céidigh’s replacement in Conal Henry, leading many to believe that the move may not have been as out of the blue as first thought.
Regardless of the mechanisms or events that brought about Ó Céidigh’s departure, alarm bells are once again ringing across the Mid-West about the future of Shannon Airport. Henry, assuming his confirmation following an Oireachtas Transport Committee hearing, will become the third Chairperson since just 2020. How have things been allowed become so seemingly unruly and unmanageable at Shannon that such senior postings now resemble more of a revolving door than a strategic beckon for the regional transport hub?
These are questions that need honest answers and overall, there needs to be a frank and open discussion surrounding the future of the airport. It is too vital a piece of infrastructure for Clare and the surrounding region to be treated in such a manner. It is most disappointing that someone with the proven capability of Ó Céidigh could not work through the issues at Shannon, nor could he make it work with the management there. But we the taxpayer, many of whom depend on the airport and its connectivity for work, need to know was the problem Ó Céidigh himself, the scale of the problems facing the airport, or the management?
Aviation is a very tricky business with tightly scheduled logistics, tight margins, intense regulatory oversight and framework, as well as a relatively high bar of commuter expectation. It is not easy to get it all right. We see this in Dublin Airport in recent weeks where a lack of forward planning has seen huge queues at security as staffing had not been increased in line with increase, post-Covid demand.
Nevertheless, the issues in Shannon are far more deep routed with a lack in investment in modern technology and processes, leading to higher-than-average turnaround times for aircraft which in turn makes it a les attractive destination for airlines to route through. Afterall, a plane can only make money when it’s in the air so the more time it spends on the tarmac, the worse it is for the airline. It is more than fair to say that there has been a storied history of underinvestment in the airport when it comes to the operational capacity of Shannon.
One only need examine the state funding record for evidence of that. That said, the airport cannot survive if it views itself as a basket case whose aim is to just stumble on from season to season. I’ve written in this column before of the need to aggressively pursue new, innovative routes by seeing gaps in the market. This isn’t just about bringing tourists into Ireland, nor businesses connections, but also by providing Irish people with holiday options abroad. Far too often the choice of a break away for people in the west of the country sees Dublin being the first thing that pops to mind given the huge options available there for Irish people looking to get away. Connectivity is returning at Shannon, thankfully, but it’s time to push on and really get a buzz going about the place once again.
In an interview with Clare FM, Ó Céidigh did note that the workload involved in being Shannon Group Chair was “more than a full time job”, eluding to his perceived scale of the problems ahead. In Conal Henry, Shannon Group will be getting someone eminently qualified in the tightest of aviation working margins given his previous work with Ryanair as that airline’s Commercial Director.
A successful entrepreneur in his own right, Henry brings much the same pedigree to the role as Ó Céidigh did before him. Will he be able to bend the ear of his old boss Michael O’Leary and get Ryanair to focus more routes into Shannon? And will his ambition see Europe’s most westerly international airport once again become a hive of trans-Atlantic activity? Only time will tell, but in the fast-moving world of aviation, where innovation is key, one would thing that the less time wasted naval gazing, the better. It’s beyond time the same old issues kept cropping up and time they were addressed head on. We’re on a hiding to nothing otherwise. The Minister in charge might not be a fan of the industry, but his responsibility is to the people, and the people of the Mid-West need him to do his job effectively!