Thursday 29 September 2016

Aer Arann has become a treasured friend to all islanders

Mairéad Ní Chonghaile

Published 25/09/2015 | 02:30

'The islanders are perfectly happy with the service provided by Aer Arann. We call it 'the plane'. It's part of our lives'
'The islanders are perfectly happy with the service provided by Aer Arann. We call it 'the plane'. It's part of our lives'

I'm from Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran Islands, and as long as I remember Aer Arann has been there. I no longer live on the island, but my family do. My mother, uncles, sister, brothers, nieces, cousins. It's home.

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The islanders are perfectly happy with the service provided by Aer Arann. We call it 'the plane'. It's part of our lives.

Before Inis Oírr got a resident doctor, the plane used to bring the doctor from Inis Mór to visit our island. I remember my mamo waiting on her (Dr Marian Broderick) and the plane to come when I was a child.

When my dad was ill over the years and had to be brought to hospital in an emergency situation, it was the plane that came to bring him to Galway. There was comfort in that. Hazy memories of that time now, they were upsetting times, uncertainty and worry that dad might not come back to us. The plane brought him to safety with my mam by his side - until the time that he really didn't come home.

Same with my mamo and my uncle, Aer Arann brought them to Galway on their last journey from the island.

I'm sure all islanders have similar memories of a constant reliable friend almost, who went that extra step and looked out for us.

Going home a few years ago, I missed the bus for my flight. I got the next bus hoping there might be a seat on the next flight. No such luck as it was coming up to Christmas, a busy time. I was wondering what I would do, how I would get to Ros a Mhíl to catch the ferry. After finishing work for the day, one of the Aer Arann staff gave me a lift and I made it home. They didn't have to do that. But they did.

Call them up looking for a seat, they know you by your voice, know your whole family, and will do their best to get you home.

The relationship built over the years with Aer Arann is something we shouldn't lose and we don't want to lose it. This is the part of Ireland that's special, unique. A company and a staff who care about you and know you, they know your family and your history. Visitors to the islands, they treat the same. It is a very rare thing and should be treasured. Knowledge that has taken years to build. I wanted to express that because it matters.

Executive Helicopters might be servicing the islands if we lose the fight to keep Aer Arann. And if they do step in, I don't see how they can replace the plane. It's not just business, it's a way of life for us, part of the fabric of the islands and I don't want to see it lost, it's too important.

More than anything, I wish for Aer Arann to continue to serve the islands and the people there. That company and its staff have been part of our lives for a long time - it's a very special relationship and I guess that you would have to be an islander to understand the depth of feeling involved.

Aer Arann is irreplaceable. The islanders are too, and this whole fiasco feels like an attempt to injure a community which has endured enough hardships in its time. Aer Arann made a real difference to our lives, allowed us to thrive. The company serves us well and ties us to Conamara. Again, another important connection between peoples which will be severed if this goes ahead.

On the Prime Time programme, a short statement was read from Executive Helicopters. It was the first time that I had heard anything from that company since the news was revealed that Aer Arann was in jeopardy.

It's not an "emotional" issue as stated by the economist on the 'Prime Time' programme; if the islanders lose Aer Arann it's a major strike against a way of life. The islands are a gem to the tourism industry, unquantifiable in their value to the economy and to the culture of this country.

This decision will very likely impact the population. A look at census figures reveals how Ireland's islands struggle with population decreases. The Aran Islands have maintained their population due in no small part to the excellent service provided by Aer Arann.

Meetings on the three islands, protests, and the publicity being generated make it undeniably clear that this matters greatly to the islanders.

Galway City and County Councils, who own the airport at Carnmore, were not consulted about the tender which saw Executive Helicopters win the contract to service the islands for four years. Executive do not have the right to fly from Carnmore from this December. How a company managed to win a state tender under these circumstances is a question that deserves an answer.

Meanwhile, the islanders continue to voice their opinions, protest, and hold meetings. Time is running out, but I feel it is not yet too late for the minister responsible to correct matters; that is why I add my voice, and give my perspective. I'm hoping that he will listen to us.

Irish Independent

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