The aviation industry is on its knees and government supports are "urgently needed" to help the sector recover from the catastrophic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Shannon Group CEO Mary Considine.
Speaking ahead of Budget 2021 next week, Ms Considine, said the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has “sent shock waves through the aviation and tourism sectors which will be felt for many years to come.”
Government supports are now "urgently needed to kick start recovery,” she said.
Shannon Group, the commercial semi-state company which employs more than 600 people across Shannon Airport, Shannon Commercial Properties and Shannon Heritage, had started the year with “great optimism,” Ms Considine said.
“We had secured new routes and expanded capacity on existing air services at Shannon Airport, we were continuing our strong investment strategy at Shannon Commercial Properties, and we were anticipating marginal growth at our Shannon Heritage visitor sites.”
“Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the world was turned upside down.”
At Shannon Airport, passenger numbers have declined dramatically since scheduled services recommenced in July. August saw numbers down 86% while September saw them dip even further to 91%.
"If this trend continues, we expect to see a decline of 80% in passenger numbers for this year," Ms Considine said.
Ryanair has repeatedly threatened to shut its bases at the airport if the Government fails to roll back its 14-day quarantine rule and adopt the European Commission’s proposed traffic light system which would allow for the free movement of people travelling from both green and orange coded areas with a testing regime to be considered for those countries coded red.
“The aviation industry is on its knees with airlines facing unprecedented challenges for survival.” The full recommendations of the Aviation Recovery Taskforce, which include a stimulus package for Cork, Shannon, Kerry and Ireland West airports to encourage the rebuilding of traffic, are the key ways Budget 2021 can assist the sector, she said.
As part of this stimulus package, the State would directly provide airports with a common fixed sum per passenger which could then be used to stimulate traffic by reducing airport charges for airlines.
“These supports are vital for us to survive, recover and rebuild, and must be linked to the speedy adoption of the proposed pan- European traffic light system and a rigorous testing regime at airports,” she said.
The Aviation Recovery Taskforce, of which Ms Considine is a member, is also calling for liquidity supports for the sector which should include guarantees, credit lines and underpins for interest rates, in line with pre-Covid levels.
The aviation sector supports the tourism, hospitality, FDI and indigenous businesses that depend on the connectivity that airports like Shannon provide Ms Considine said.
“Budget 2021 presents a unique opportunity to reboot our economy by supporting the aviation sector,” she said.
“We have been through crises in the past and we will recover, but it will take time and Government support."
Shannon Group and other aviation representatives, including Aer Lingus, Ryanair and daa are to appear before the Dáil's Committee on Transport and Communications Networks tomorrow to discuss Ireland's connectivity.