The Government is coming under increasing pressure from business and political circles to guarantee that Aer Lingus’s valuable London Heathrow slots will be protected in any potential sale of the airline to IAG.
With two bids from International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) already rejected by Aer Lingus and a third widely anticipated, members of the business community have expressed grave concern over the potential ramifications for Cork Airport of any such takeover.
According to Cork Chamber chief executive Conor Healy, the damage to businesses and the airport would be hard to quantify should IAG successfully acquire the former national carrier and look to reallocate its Heathrow slots.
“We would be very concerned over the potential implications of IAG’s takeover of Aer Lingus with regard to the potential impact on our connectivity to London Heathrow,” said Mr Healy.
“Heathrow is our most important access and connecting point by a considerable margin; it is our leading connection to our largest trading partner in the UK and is our leading access point to the globe from a business perspective, so it really would be a nightmare scenario from a Cork perspective should at any point connectivity to London Heathrow be reduced... or ultimately withdrawn.”
Mr Healy said there appears to be no discernible advantage to the country from the sale of Aer Lingus and called on the Government to use its 25% stake to secure a guarantee that connectivity from Irish airports would not be reduced.
However, industry sources said that while the Government can use its shareholding to negotiate a guarantee on the use of Aer Lingus’s slots, it is not in a position to demand such protection.
Mr Healy also warned that any reduction in connectivity to Heathrow would undoubtedly make Cork a less attractive destination to multinational businesses looking to bring jobs to the area and would put the city at a very significant disadvantage.
Mr Healy’s concerns were echoed by Chambers Ireland, which said the loss of Heathrow slots would have significant implications for foreign direct investment, regional economic growth, business tourism and tourism in general.
While unveiling impressive 2014 growth figures, Shannon Airport chief executive Neil Pakey also stressed the importance to the West and Midwest of retaining Aer Lingus services, citing the negative impact of a previous withdrawal in 2007 which was met with fierce opposition and yielded a reintroduction of services in 2009.
Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Timmy Dooley said the sale of Aer Lingus to IAG is the wrong decision for Ireland. He said 1,000 jobs could be lost at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports, while his party colleague and Cork South-Central TD Michael McGrath said the slots must be protected at all costs.
“That scenario [of reduced connectivity] wouldn’t bear thinking about and the consequences would be truly grave for Cork Airport,” said Mr McGrath. “The onus is on everyone in a position of power; the Government, the DAA and Aer Lingus to ensure that nightmare scenario does not come to pass.”
The Department of Transport, Cork Airport, the Dublin Airport Authority, and IAG yesterday declined to comment.
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