Government re-advertises Aran Islands air service contract
The Government has re-advertised the tender for the air service to the Aran Islands that it cancelled in controversial circumstances last October.
The air service is in receipt of a €3.6m government subsidy.
The decision to cancel the tender last October represented a major climb-down by the Government after widespread opposition to the move.
Aer Arann Islands has operated the contract for the past 45 years and employs 40 people. However, Executive Helicopters emerged as the preferred bidder in last year's tender.
Locals had hit out at the decision to replace a fixed-wing air service with a helicopter service - warning it would not be capable of operating in adverse weather and would impact vital services to the three islands.
They were also angry that the air service would relocate from Connemara Airport (also known as Aerfort Na Minne) to Galway Airport on the opposite side of the city.
One of those opposed to the ending of the Aer Arann Islands contract was TV presenter and islander Maura Derrane, who said the move was "ridiculous".
After the outcry the Department rowed back on the plans. Now, in a move that will satisfy islanders - but represents a blow to Executive Helicopters - the new tender specifies that the service will be between the islands and Connemara Airport.
In the aftermath of the tender being cancelled, Executive Helicopters called on the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to include an alternative site to Connemara Airport "so as to allow for a competitive tender process".
Connemara Airport is owned by the current operator of the service, Aer Arann Islands.
In the new tender, the Government is seeking air services between the Aran Islands and Connemara for four years from October 1, 2016.
The successful tenderer must also provide a road transport service to connect passengers between Connemara Airport and Galway city.
The contract is potentially worth €920,000 per annum to the successful bidder.
The new tender also discloses that passengers using the subsidised service declined marginally in 2015, from 24,445 to 24,388.
Tenders must be lodged by June 3.