Cargo deal key to future growth – Shannon chief
Airport needs new focus as passenger figures fall
THE future of Shannon Airport can only be secured with the establishment of an international cargo hub as passenger numbers continue to decline.
That was the view of Shannon Development chief executive Vincent Cunnane, who said the airport could no longer survive on air passengers travelling to and from the facility.
Mr Cunnane, who is on the board of Shannon Airport and also serves as chief executive of the Mid-West Task Force, was speaking yesterday at Shannon Development’s report for 2009.
Following agreement with global air cargo firm Lynx company, it is hoped that an international cargo hub would create hundreds of jobs in the near future.
However, for it to become a reality, the Government has been asked to commit €7m to copper-fasten the project. Mr Cunnane said such a facility was essential for the future prosperity of Shannon Airport and the region.
“The airport will not survive on passenger numbers alone – it will have to have that cargo. That combination of cargo and passenger numbers will see Shannon Airport involved in the regeneration of the west,” he said.
“We have put a lot of store behind the Lynx project. The plans for phases two and three are significant and will be of benefit to this region and Ireland as a whole,” Mr Cunnane said.
From 3.6 million passengers passing through the airport in 2007, that figure has fallen by almost 25pc to 2.8 million last year.
A new board, chaired by businessman Brian O’Connell, was recently appointed at the most challenging period in the history of the airport.
The airport is facing further declines this year due to a significant withdrawal of Ryanair routes – many of which have gone to Cork Airport.
While Ryanair was thought to have sought a deal that was unpalatable for the airport, many have argued that their services should have been retained at all costs and that the fallout with the airline was a mistake.
There are also concerns about the ongoing management of the airport by the Dublin Airport Authority and its influence in deciding not to accept Ryanair’s request for reduced passenger fees at Shannon.
Mr Cunnane said those involved in running the airport had to look to the future. “If you isolate the outcomes of the airport for the past year, there is a grave danger and you are on a downward spiral.
The question now is — how do you correct that? How do we deal with the short-term?” He said that “capacity and uncertainty” were driving the loss in passenger numbers.
Last year, Shannon became the first European airport to avail of pre-clearance flights. The new facility enables passengers to go through both US immigration and customs inspections before departing Ireland.
However, Aer Lingus has not signed up to it yet. “Pre-clearance has come online. It is not being utilised – Aer Lingus is a key problem on that side of things.
Every incentive is being offered to Aer Lingus to use all facilities at the airport.” Chair of the Mid-West Task Force Denis Brosnan has warned that Shannon Airport will turn into a regional hub if the decline in passenger numbers is not addressed.
Shannon Development’s report revealed that employment numbers in the Shannon Free Zone dropped by 11pc from 7,107 to 6,320 last year.