A GRIM warning was issued yesterday that the downward spiral in the fortunes of Shannon Airport would continue unless corrective action is taken to broaden its business base.
Speaking at the launch of Shannon Development’s annual report, chief executive Dr Vincent Cunnane said: “The airport will not survive on passengers alone and needs a cargo hub.”
Shannon Development has responsibility for tourism in the mid-west and job creation on the Shannon Free Zone.
The development of a huge Lynx cargo hub at the airport is one of the key recommendations in the report sent to government by the Mid-West Regional Task Force, chaired by Denis Brosnan.
Mr Brosnan has already been strongly critical of the Government’s failure to date, to respond to their report.
Mr Cunnane said the Lynx plans are significant and involve the development of huge controlled temperature storage areas.
“It (Lynx) will be of major benefit to this region and Ireland as a whole,” he said.
Overseas tourist numbers through Shannon dropped 27% during the first nine months of last year and reductions in the number of flights has been blamed. Ryanair plans to cut its base at Shannon by 75% this year.
Dr Cunnane said the introduction of Open Skies, which allows transatlantic airlines bypass Shannon, has had a huge impact on Shannon and the airport had not received sufficient funding from the Government to compensate for this loss of business.
There was a 50% reduction in Shannon’s transatlantic routes over the winter and a further 37% reduction in European capacity in the same period.
Dr Cunnane said: “If you look at tourism and the airport we had a captive audience almost. Legislation said transatlantic airlines must land at the airport. Two years ago or so that went with Open Skies and what we are seeing now is the outcome of Open Skies.”
On the employment front, jobs at the Shannon Free Zone dropped from 7,107 in 2008 to 6,320.
Shannon Development chairman, John Brassil said the job losses resulted from companies reducing rather than pulling out altogether.
Mr Brassil said the development of a massive energy park on the Shannon Estuary, where they have a 600-acre land bank, would be a catalyst for industrial development in the region.
Shannon LNG, an Irish subsidiary of Hess LNG Ltd, have been given planning permission to build a €500m liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on that site.
A 26km pipeline will connect the LNG terminal to the national grid gas pipeline near Foynes.
Mr Brassil said: “When complete the new terminal will supply a significant part of the country’s projected gas needs, giving increased security to our energy requirements. It is going to be the biggest project since Aughinish went into the Shannon Estuary.”
He said it was envisaged to draw in other major energy providers to the proposed energy park.
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