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*Launching the business case for a multi-annual, fully-funded regional air access recovery and growth plan for regional airports: (front) Stephen Keogh, president Shannon Chamber and Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, president, Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) with (back l-r): Dermot Kelly, chair, Shannon branch IHF; Darragh McAllister, incoming president, Ennis Chamber; Donnacha Hurley. President, Limerick Chamber; and Ken Deery, CEO, Galway Chamber. Photograph by Eamon Ward

A consistency of financial support over the next decade is needed to ensure Shannon Airport survives the current aviation crisis.

To recover and grow Shannon Airport’s “previously viable air services”, a sustained period of multi-annual funding “until at least 2024 and potentially as late as 2029 depending on when traffic returns to 2019 levels” is required.

Shannon Chamber in association with the Irish Hotels Federation put forward a business case for a multi-annual funded action plan for regional air access recovery and growth on Monday morning. The briefing session was attended by Oireachtas representatives from the Mid-West.

Kevin Thompstone, a board member of Shannon Chamber and the former CEO of Shannon Development gave the presentation as he stressed the need to implement supports to preserve Shannon’s future. Aviation’s recovery is dependent on vaccination, testing, track and trace, confidence, operational and financial viability for airports and airlines plus route marketing, he said.

Three forms of sustained multi-annual funding are required to achieve the key goals of Shannon sustaining operations as it recovers from the crisis and for the swift return of critical routes to and from North America, the UK and Europe, he detailed. “In order for Shannon to navigate its way out of the current crisis, there is an urgent need for consistency of support over the medium term as the Airport recovers. A new multi-year funding arrangement for the smaller state-owned airports is vital and would be comparable to the regional Airports Programme’ providing CAPEX funding for the coming years”.

Airports outside Dublin should be provied with “a common fixed sum per passenger which will be used by the airports to stimulate traffic by reducing airport charges for airlines. This scheme should apply for the duration of the aviation sector’s recovery from the pandemic”.

He acknowledged that the Government “correctly” focused on public health and safety during 2020 and 2021. “The vaccine rollout during 2021 offers the opportunity to turn attention to rebuilding the aviation sector”.

EUROCONTROL’s most Optimistic Forecast shows that air traffic in Europe will not return to 2019 levels until at least 2024. This scenario assumes that the vaccine will be made widely available to travellers this summer or an end of the pandemic this summer. The more pessimistic scenarios forecast a delayed recovery until 2026 if vaccine availability is delayed until summer 2022 or for no recovery until 2029 if the vaccine is ineffective with lingering infection and low traveller confidence.

Average daily movements at Shannon Airport were down 71 percent from January 18th to 24th this year in comparison with 2019 levels while the reduction at Dublin Airport 81 percent and 75 percent at Cork Airport.

As outlined in the Taskforce for Aviation Recovery, the GDP contribution of air transport in Ireland is €8.9bn with 140,000 jobs supported by the aviation sector in the country. Foreign tourists make an estimated GDP contribution of €8.7m to the Irish economy.

A three pillar plan was also published by the Taskforce, protecting public health and rebuilding customer confidence, saving jobs and supporting Irish businesses plus rebuilding regional and international connectivity. The latter pillar proposed that a common fixed sum/pax to be provided at Shannon to stimulate traffic through reduced charges.

Subsequent to this, the Government launched the Regional Airports Programme in February setting out a framework for providing CAPEX and OPEX support to Airports with less than 1m passengers. The announcement included a €32m fund for Cork and Shannon Airports to follow up on recommendations of Aviation Task Force. “CAPEX and OPEX funding is vital to the sustainability of Shannon Airport as it recovers from the current crisis,” Kevin stated. Funding of €6.1m has also been approved for hold baggage screening (HBS) project at Shannon Airport to comply with EU regulations.

“The big question to be resolved is less about funds but more about their purpose. Do the announcements provide a meaningful plan for restoration of connectivity? There were 40 flights a week from Shannon to London at peak schedule? Will they return and when? There were 45 peak transatlantic summer services to Shannon using single aisle aircraft. What does the plan and funding do to ensure their timely return,” Thompstone questioned as he highlighted the need to restore connectivity.

Tipperary TD, Martin Browne (SF) queried what stage would be “the end point” that will accumulate resulting in job losses if the funding is not secured. Forecasting a timeline was difficult, Thompstone replied. He said the lift to hospitality and tourism would not come until airlines resume flights back into Shannon.

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