Shannon businesses fear 'death knell'
Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30
It made history as Europe's first transatlantic hub and has hosted the most powerful and glamorous people in the world.
John F Kennedy and every American president since have passed through its gates, as have Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Gene Kelly, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra.
Even James Bond wined and dined at Shannon Airport before catching a flight to New York in the spy thriller Diamonds are Forever, in keeping with Shannon's iconic status as not only a portal to America, but a gateway to glamour during the golden age of travel during the 1960s and 70s.
But as Shannon marks its 70th anniversary this October, dark clouds are forming on the horizon as the future of its flagship airline, Aer Lingus, remains up in the air.
People who live in the area and work at Shannon airport and surrounding area are bracing themselves for what they fear could soon be the end of an era. This is despite assurances from former Aer Lingus chief Willie Walsh that Shannon will retain its slots to and from London Heathrow for at least five years if IAG, the parent company of British Airways, is successful in its €1.4bn takeover of the former State airline.
Not only does the airport directly employ 2,000 people, the adjacent industrial estate which is intrinsically linked to the airport, is one of the largest employers in the region.
The loss of the slots would have a huge knock-on effect on all local businesses, said John Delahunty, owner of Marcos Shoes in the nearby Sky Court Shopping Centre in Shannon town. "Without a shadow of a doubt, it would be the death knell," he told the Sunday Independent.
Even now, Mr Delahunty, a shoe designer whose clients included notorious shoe collector Imelda Marcos, said the drastic reduction in the number of Aer Lingus flights from Shannon over the past five years means he has to get up at dawn to fly to Dublin to make connections to Milan.
"That airport was my lifeline," he said.
Next door, jewellery wholesaler John Harrison, who works part-time at Gleeson Jewellers, said workers from the airport and industrial estate are the core of their clientele.
"If the airport goes, they go. It will kill the town," he said.
Limerick-based fashion stylist and model Celia Holman Lee said Shannon Airport has always been the lifeblood of the area, including Limerick city and nearby Ennis.
It was Shannon Airport that kick-started her own successful career as a teenage model when she used to model Donegal tweeds and other Irish-made designs during fashion shows that were staged at the airport's duty free shop for wealthy Americans. Shannon Airport opened the world's first duty free shop in 1951.
"Shannon was the place where everyone looked for work because of the amount of business and people going through," she said.
"There was a massive spin-off to the area and it really was a hub for everyone," she said. "Nobody knows what's going to happen now."
And even though fast food restaurants have since replaced the elegant Lindberg restaurant where the rich and famous once dined on their stop-overs to and from America, the airport remains an icon. It is a vital link to the rest of Europe for people living in the region.
Regina Kennedy, from Parteen in Co Clare, who was flying to Malaga with a group of friends for a hen weekend, said maintaining the Aer Lingus slots is vital.