The Government has re-advertised the tender for the €3.6m subsidised air services to the Aran Islands, Co Galway that it cancelled in controversial circumstances last October.
The decision to cancel the tender last October represented a major climbdown by the Government.
The tender was cancelled in the face of widespread opposition from islanders in the three Aran Islands who were angry at the proposed loss of fixed-wing air services to the islands after a helicopter firm emerged as a preferred bidder for the contract.
Residents were also angry that as a result of the new service, the air service would relocate from Connemara or Na Mine airport to Galway Airport.
Aer Arann Islands has operated the contract for the past 45 years and employs 40 people.
One of those who was opposed to the ending of the Aer Arann Islands contract was TV presenter and islander, Maura Derrane who said last year that she was shocked at the decision to end the Aer Arann contract, which she described as “ridiculous”.
However, in a move that will satisfy islanders but represent a blow to the helicopter firm that emerged as the preferred bidder, Executive Helicopters, the new tender specifies that the new service will be between the islands and Connemara or Na Mine 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 Na Mine Airport “so at to allow for a competitive tender process”.
Na Mina Airport is owned by the current operator of the service, Aer Arann Islands.
The new tender also discloses that passengers using the subsidised service declined marginally in 2015 going down from 24,445 to 24,388.
The numbers flying to the Aran Islands, made up of those using the subsidised and non-subsidised services in 2015 increased by 2.5% going up from 38,473 to 39,506.
The figures show that 24,143 flew to and from Inis Mór with 10,284 flying to and from Inis Óirr and 5,079 flying to and from Inis Meáin.
In the new tender, the Government is seeking air services between the Aran Islands and Na Mina Airport for four years from October 1. The successful tenderer must also provide a road transport service to connect passengers by road between Na Mine Airport and Galway City.
The contract is potentially worth €920,000 per annum to the successful operator.
In addition, the operator of the service generated an income of €261,584 from postal delivery services, freight services and income from other Government entities in 2015. Tenders must be lodged by June 3.
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