Crunch week for future of flights to the Aran Islands
Aran Islanders could see their crucial air link to the mainland severed for two days this week as an airline tries to thrash out a new temporary flying agreement with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The Irish Independent understands that Aer Arann Islands, which is owned by Pádraig Ó Céidigh, will seek a 12-month extension to its existing contract while a new tender process gets under way.
That is twice as long as the six-month extension that the State has already offered the company. Mr O Céidigh declined to comment.
It is thought that a 12-month contract would be the only viable option for Aer Arann Islands as an interim measure, given that the company generates about 70pc of its business during the summer months and just 30pc during the winter.
It is believed that about 40 staff at the airline were told over the weekend that their jobs are safe for the time being.
They had been placed on protective notice after Galway-based Executive Helicopters was named as the preferred bidder for the taxpayer-funded public service obligation (PSO) route from the Aran Islands to the mainland from October 1.
Aer Arann Islands had already informed the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) of its intention to cease the service on Wednesday of this week. As part of that process, it had to submit new operation manuals and other information to the IAA.
Even if the department was to decide today to grant the 12-month extension, it is possible that Aer Arann Islands might not be in a position to fly on Thursday or Friday.
That is because it will have to liaise with the IAA again and inform it that it will be continuing operations.
This will require it to submit fresh documentation to the aviation watchdog, meaning there could be a short time lag between when its contract ends on Wednesday and when it is able to resume flying again.
Meanwhile, management at Executive Helicopters - which was due to take over the service - will be sitting down with lawyers this week to consider what course of legal action they may pursue following the department's decision to re-tender the service.
Gaeltacht Minister Joe McHugh was unavailable for comment.
Aer Arann Islands initiated High Court action last week after it learned that Executive Helicopters had been named the preferred bidder for the service. It is contesting whether the tender was the most economically advantageous one.