Russian aircraft maintenance firm Transaero is one of two companies that have signed an agreement to create hundreds of jobs at Shannon Airport as part of new plans to revitalise the area.
Earlier this year Transaero announced plans to create 100 new jobs at Shannon within 12 months after acquiring a maintenance firm, Air Atlanta Aero Engineering, which already had 241 workers there.
Nearly 1,000 new jobs have been guaranteed for Shannon after the Government formally unveiled plans to separate the region's airport from the Dublin Airport Authority.
The two companies have signed undertakings to create 850 jobs within the next three years. Both companies are involved in the aircraft maintenance sector. The commitments came as Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton unveiled plans to make Shannon Airport an independent entity by the end of the year.
As revealed by the Irish Independent last week, the blueprint prepared for the Government by a steering committee and two task forces envisages that as many as 3,000 jobs will be created at an aviation services centre in Shannon within three to five years. They'll cover a range of functions from aircraft maintenance to aviation finance.
But Mr Varadkar warned yesterday that unless Shannon could grow passenger numbers to 2.5 million by 2021 from 1.6 million last year then its future prospects were grim. But he said it was "defeatist" to say it couldn't be achieved and that the target was "realistic".
"Quite frankly, if Shannon can't achieve that number by 2021, then there is no future," he said. He added yesterday that if the airport was allowed to continue its decline then it would have to either close or be designated as a regional airport.
However, almost immediately a war of words erupted between Knock Airport and Mr Varadkar.
Knock Airport boss Liam Scollan has argued that the €100m debt reallocation as well as planned incentives at Shannon could amount to illegal state aid and distort the market. He has threatened to take legal action on the matter. Knock has received €15m in state-funded support in the past 10 years. Mr Varadkar dismissed the assertion that the Shannon plan could be construed as illegal state aid and said if Knock wasn't happy about state supports, then it could stop taking them.
Mr Varadkar said part of the new Shannon strategy would include attracting more military stopovers. The number of US troops using the airport has dramatically declined as the country's presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has wound down.
He acknowledged concerns expressed by unions over the weekend that the projections for job creation and passenger growth were ambitious but said that doing nothing at Shannon – which lost €8m last year and directly employs 220 people - was far riskier than separating the airport from the DAA.
Asked if there was a danger that Shannon Airport – which will remain in public ownership – could return to the Government cap in hand if the split from the DAA ultimately failed, Mr Bruton said: "The real risk for the Shannon region and the assets there is that we do nothing."
The plan will also see Shannon Development eventually become part of the new Shannon Airport structure, with the bulk of the agency's functions transferring to the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Failte Ireland.