'Copter firm moved from high fliers to state utility
Executive Helicopters Limited is due to start a four-year service in October linking Inis Mor, Inis Oirr and Inis Meain with Galway.
According to Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh, "daily return flights by helicopter will be provided between the islands and Galway Airport".
But who are Executive Helicopters?
Founded in Galway in 1998, Executive Helicopters is headed up by pilot Chris Shiel, who claims that the firm is the largest commercial helicopter operator in the country.
During the Celtic Tiger years, when Ireland had one of the highest number of helicopters per capita of any country in the world, the company operated the helicopters of many high-net worth individuals.
It also offered flight-training for its clients, although Mr Shiel said that the high cost for a private helicopter licence proved prohibitive.
However, its business model has evolved since the recession and is now more focused on utility.
With a staff of 10 and a fleet of three helicopters, the firm now has contracts with many large semi-state companies such as the ESB and Bord Gáis.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Shiel said: "We monitor gas lines around the country for Bord Gáis and do patrols on main power lines for the ESB.
"We also provide firefighting services for [State-owned forestry company] Coillte. We also do aerial filming for television and movies, we do pretty much anything."
He said that while the business experienced a downturn after the recession, "last year was our best ever year and this year is set to be even busier".
"Our revenue would be a couple of million euros," he said. "By the end of the year we will have flown 1,000 commercial hours."
Mr Shiel declined to comment on the controversy surrounding the contract award. The other player of note is Carnmore Aviation Limited, the firm currently operating Galway Airport.
The firm signed an agreement with the Galway councils, set to expire this year, that it would operate the airport. The firm is backed by Galway native Brian Conneely of Brian Conneely & Co, who is also the owner of the Weston Airport in Lucan.
Although the firm is operating Galway Airport, the local councils are carrying out a feasibility study on the facility's future use. Councillors will consider expressions of interest relating to the future of the airport in the coming weeks.