Dismay as Aer Arann service to islands replaced
Concerns are growing after the announcement that an airplane service from the Aran Islands is to be replaced by a helicopter service.
Locals met last night to discuss the impact the new service will have on the local economy.
They said that they wish to see the existing fixed wing service run by Aer Arann continue.
Minister of State for the Gaeltacht, Joe McHugh, confirmed that that the State's air service contract for the islands had been awarded to Executive Helicopters Limited.
They are due to commence the four-year service in October, linking Inis Mor, Inis Oirr and Inis Meain with Galway.
"Under the new contract, daily return flights by helicopter will be provided between the islands and Galway Airport," said the minister.
"The agreement between my department and Executive Helicopters Limited ensures that the air service to the Aran Islands will continue over the next four years," he added.
When the new tender was advertised, it allowed for use of both Inverin and Galway airports.
Inverin airport is 8km by road from the ferry port of Rossaveal, allowing service users easy access to a ferry to the islands when flights are cancelled due to bad weather.
However, Rossaveal and Galway Airport are 52km apart,
The joint owners of the airport, Galway city and county councils, have insisted they were unaware of such plans and there have been no negotiations on the matter.
"Galway County Council and Galway City Council have not been involved in discussions regarding the proposals in this tender and there is no agreement in place regarding the proposal," said a spokesperson.
"The current lease on the property to Carnmore Aviation Ltd expires in December 2015."
Local Independent Councillor Tom Welby hit out at the department for failing to properly review the tender.
"I would have to question how this happened. If our site is to be used in this tender, we should have full access to this information," he said.
"I would not support any helicopter service for the Aran Islands. I think it's the wrong system and will impact severely on the vital service for the island communities," he added.
Locals on the islands have expressed their dismay at the plans, insisting it will have a significant detrimental impact on communities. The new service would see a drop in the frequency of flights to the three islands.
Executive Helicopters said it was not in a position to make any comment on the tender until the process was completed.
However, the decision is expected to cost up to 40 jobs at Aer Arann. The airline has linked the Aran Islands with the mainland for more than 45 years.
Mr McHugh has agreed to meet with a delegation of islanders next week to discuss his decision.