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*Photograph: Arthur Ellis

MORE INTENSE EFFORTS are to made to push for a review of the national aviation policy, the Chairperson of the Oireachtas Transport Committee has said while labelling the current chaos at Dublin while Shannon lies idle with free capacity as nonsensical.

Members of the joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications met at Shannon Airport on Monday morning and followed this two hour sitting with an engagement at the Irish Aviation Authority’s base in Ballycasey, Shannon.

Fourteen members sit on the committee. Those present on Monday included Joe Carey TD (FG), Cathal Crowe TD (FF), Senator Timmy Dooley (FF), Kieran O’Donnell TD (FG), Darren O’Rourke TD (SF), Senator Gerard Craughwell (IND), Senator Jerry Buttimer (FG) and Senator Gerard Horkan (FF).

It was the first time, Chair designate of Shannon Group, Conal Henry met with politicians on the committee with Shannon Group CEO, Mary Considine also involved in the discussions. Shannon’s recovery, projections for passengers growth and new routes together and the overall performance of the entire Shannon Group were among the talking points with a tour of US pre-clearance facilities also given.

CEO of the IAA, Peter Kearney also gave a tour to the committee and outlined their operations, particularly in the context of Irish controlled and managed airspace, which have been the subject of much recent attention and interest.

Speaking to The Clare Echo at Shannon Airport, Chairperson of the committee, Limerick TD, Kieran O’Donnell (FG) described the engagement as “very constructive” and expressed his belief that security facilities were “way ahead” with passengers getting through customs in average times of eighteen to twenty minutes. “US preclearance is working very well and furthermore the way they now have security your luggage only has to go through once which is unique in terms of Ireland”.

He recalled that in December 2020, the committee proposed in a report to the Government that the national aviation strategy be reviewed. “We can’t have a situation where we have Dublin Airport gone up by thirteen percent and now nearly at ninety percent of passenger numbers, now we see Shannon Airport and Cork falling by the same amount. We’ve a state of the art airport here that can take up to 4.5 million passengers, 380,000 went through last year, it peaked at about 1.8 million in 2018, yet we’ve Dublin with huge overcrowding and that makes absolutely no sense”.

Deputy O’Donnell said the review which was sought eighteen months ago “can commence as quickly as possible”. He stated, “Shannon Airport was very busy this morning which is to be welcomed, they’re talking about getting to eighty percent of passenger numbers, Heathrow is back to three flights a day, we have the transatlantic return from Aer Lingus, Ryanair have more flights in place here than they had in 2019, we also discussed about establishing European hub connectivity out of Shannon, that is a key missing ingredient from us”.

“This review of the national aviation policy has to happen with immediate effect, it is so important, we visited Dublin Airport not too long ago and it was chaos. You had a situation where people were queuing for hours, it was highly inefficient, how can you have a situation where you have an airport under enormous pressure with its numbers increasing in terms of its overall share and yet you have an airport like Shannon which has an overall share that is going down,” the former Vice Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee stated.

Shannon’s capacity must be utilised, he stressed. “We have an asset here, even back in 2019 it was operating at less than half of what its capacity is. In Holland which is not too dissimilar to us, they have already changed their policy in terms of finding a way to redistribute traffic away from the main airport, we need now to look at national aviation policy, we’ve a good roads network and we want to see Shannon Airport linking by rail to Limerick and Galway, the key message to come out of today but was we want to progress a review of the national aviation policy with immediate effect so we don’t have the continual pressures at Dublin Airport where people have a very poor experience as a passenger whereas they can come to Shannon Airport with a very positive impact as a passenger, we have the capacity here for it”.

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