Four years after the Shannon Group Plc was granted separation from Ireland’s commercial semi-state airport company, the inappropriately named Dublin Airport Authority, councillors in Clare are beginning to intensely scrutinise the new regime.
At their May monthly meeting, councillors from across the political spectrum voiced their frustration with the running of Shannon Airport on foot of a motion from Fianna Fáil’s Pat McMahon, a staunch and consistent advocate for the airport throughout his 42 years in public office.
His proposal called on the Shannon Group “to promote UK and European regional routes” so as to expand hub activity at the airport. In his address, Cllr McMahon expressed disappointment with the Shannon Group’s apparent lack of expertise in attracting new routes. Illustrating the need to have more feeder services linking to Shannon’s trans-Atlantic routes, Fine Gael councillor Mary Howard recounted her recent visit to Phoenix aboard a half-full American Airlines flight.
Lamenting the steep decline of market share in passenger numbers at Shannon, from 13% in 2005 to the present 5%, Cllr McMahon said, “This has me baffled. We have the longest runway in Europe, US customs clearance, good accessibility and car-parking that is the best of any airport in Ireland. How we can’t progress passenger numbers is beyond me as Shannon is located beside a motorway with nearby train connections and bus routes operating seven days a week,” he added.
Independent councillor PJ Ryan said he has suspected for a long time that Shannon Airport has been losing business, he believes the Shannon Group is not promoting the airport to its full potential.
Ennis councillor Pat Daly stated that while Shannon’s trans-Atlantic business is doing well, there is a major problem with insufficient European and UK flights. He is also concerned with the decline of passenger market share “at a time when we have a tourism boom, the population catchment and the roads infrastructure.”
Taking a stronger line, his Fianna Fáil party colleague, Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy, said, “I sometimes wonder whether we should have sought and ultimately gained independence for Shannon at all?” Cllr Colleran Molloy claimed that people are now saying that those in charge at Shannon Airport are “staid or stale” before adding, “It’s even been said that they are waiting to retire.”
Independent councillor Gerry Flynn commented, “I always thought that Ireland is too small for three competing international airports. I felt that while separation for Shannon may have suited a lot of people, especially the Dublin lobby, it didn’t exactly suit us. For that reason, I didn’t agree with autonomy for Shannon. In this region airport connectivity is critical. We have all the right ingredients with the industrial sector and third level education but I think that the airport is a little bit suspect and needs more Government support.”
Furthermore, said Cllr Flynn, “We are being told that Shannon Airport is going in the right direction, but from what Cllr McMahon and Cllr Colleran Molloy are saying, I’m not sure if the right people are in charge, with sufficient vigour, enthusiasm or knowledge of the aviation business. I think there are issues at Shannon Airport and I also believe that the focus has gone over towards commercial development and away from the airport. In my view, the abolition of Shannon Development was another backward step.
“Shannon Development’s property portfolio, the largest in the State, was handed over to a body whose main business should be the running of an international airport and not an extensive commercial property portfolio,” said Cllr Flynn in conclusion.