London calling as Aer Lingus prepares for Shannon U-turn
AER Lingus is expected to announce today that it intends to reverse its controversial decision to axe the Shannon-Heathrow route.
The airline's surprise move follows a major outcry by locals and struggling businesses.
It is also a direct rebuttal to Ryanair's recent bid to take over the struggling airline and restore the route as part of its €748m proposed merger.
Details on the exact number of flights to be introduced are expected to be announced at a press conference today. There is speculation the airline will operate a four-flights-a-week service from Shannon to the UK's biggest airport.
The U-turn follows the recent agreement with workers' unions on plans to reduce costs by €25m, a factor which will have played a major role in influencing Aer Lingus's decision to reinstate the Shannon-Heathrow route at reduced cost.
Fianna Fail TD Timmy Dooley last night said workers' "generosity" in accepting new work conditions had allowed Aer Lingus to bring back the Shannon-Heathrow route.
"Ever since Aer Lingus announced they would be moving the Heathrow slots from Shannon Airport to Belfast, I have been pressing them to reverse their decision, so I'm delighted they will be shortly announcing their decision to bring back the route," Mr Dooley told the Irish Independent.
"This decision is such an important one for Clare and the mid-west region. It will have a significant economic effect on the area and hopefully lead to more local investment."
Reinstatement of the route will deal a massive boost to local Government TDs and councillors who have been inundated with complaints from angry constituents and businesses. Amid job losses and reduced business activity, the tourism industry has also been massively affected.
"I truly believe this is the best news that the region could have received in the run-up to Christmas. It's been a difficult year for Shannon with the global economic climate having a knock-on effect on the airport and tourism throughout the area," Mr Dooley added.
"I'd also like to pay tribute to the Aer Lingus workers who really made the reversal of this decision possible. If they had not put the airport and the region ahead of their own interests, we would not have been able to get Aer Lingus to relent."
Last week, TDs accused Aer Lingus chief Dermot Mannion of "abandoning the regions" at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport.
At the time, Fianna Fail chairman Frank Fahey demanded the restoration of a full service at Shannon, rather than a four-flights-a-week service, which had been rumoured.
"I like a lot of what I see from Michael O'Leary. You'd better get back into Shannon if you want to retain the goodwill and support of the Irish people," said Mr Fahey.
Mr Mannion did not rule out a restoration of flights, saying he would make a statement on the issue in the coming days.
Efforts to contact Aer Lingus proved unsuccessful last night.