Tuesday 6 December 2016

Uproar as air service for Aran Islands in jeopardy once again

Published 08/07/2016 | 09:59

A view over Inis Meáin, one of the Aran Islands. There has been controversy over the decision to replace the islands' fixed-wing air service with a new helicopter service based far from the mainland coast on the east side of Galway city
A view over Inis Meáin, one of the Aran Islands. There has been controversy over the decision to replace the islands' fixed-wing air service with a new helicopter service based far from the mainland coast on the east side of Galway city

The air service for the Aran Islands is once again in jeopardy after the Department of the Gaeltacht failed to reach an agreement with the owners of na Minna airport in Connemara to use the site.

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The setback has led the Department to extend the deadline for tenders for the €3.6m public service obligation (PSO) contract for a third time to July 15.

The Inverin airport is the only one named in the tender process for the Aran air service.

However, Gaeltacht Minister Seán Kyne confirmed that a fee for use of the airport had still to be agreed.  He said a solution must be found by the end of this month, as the tender process cannot be extended further.

“We must ensure continuation of a service to the Islands,” he said.

The existing contract with Aer Arann ends in September.

Mr Kyne said the Department had also received advice from the Chief State Solicitors Office that it was not possible to extend the contract further.

“We have had three and a half months of consultation with the owners of na Minna but we have yet to get an agreement. As it stands we have no airport, na Minna is the only option allowed for in the tender process, previously we had two airports included in the process,” he told the Irish Independent.

Mr Kyne met with Oireachtas representatives in the west on the matter this week. He said a lack of competition was to blame for the difficulty in securing a long-term air service for the islands.

Last year Galway city’s Executive Helicopters was announced as the ‘preferred tenderer’ for the four year agreement by then Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh. That tender also proposed the relocation of the Aran Islands airport link from Inverin across the city to Galway airport at Carnmore.

However, after an outcry from islanders including fears a helicopter service would be unreliable and that Galway Airport at too far from the port in Ros a’Mhíl, the Department rowed back on the plans.

Following the row back a one year contract extension was put in place with Aer Arann, however, that will run out in September.

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