Business and tourism leaders in the Mid-West have welcomed the plans to split Shannon Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority.
President of the Irish Hotels Federation, Micheal Vaughan, described it as momentous announcement marking a new era of opportunity for the region.
“This will enable Shannon Airport to fulfil its potential to act as a significant tourism hub for the West coast of Ireland,” he said.
“Tourism businesses on the ground have long supported the need for an independent Shannon Airport and a new framework where it could leverage tourism and enterprise interests all working with a single vision for the region.
“This is a great day for the Shannon region and we will be fully behind this new commercially focused entity, which will be a significant opportunity to act as a catalyst to energise the region and in particular tourism marketing policies.
“Enormous potential exists to promote Shannon as a vibrant holiday destination abroad. We have continually called for a new approach and structure to promote the Shannon region — the existing tourism marketing approach for Shannon was simply ineffective, with visitor numbers collapsing by over 50% over the past decade.”
The president of Shannon Chamber of Commerce, Damian Gleeson, said the move was the start of a challenging process which will take the airport forward.
“Today’s announcement is an important start to an exciting future for Shannon in terms of aviation activity and overall regional economic development,” he said.
“This future will herald a new model of collaboration between aviation, industry and tourism agencies, which will work for the betterment of the region at many levels.”
However, Fianna Fáil tourism spokesman, Clare TD Timmy Dooley, raised concerns about the Government decision.
“Shannon Airport is currently receiving €8m a year from the Dublin Airport Authority and there is no clear funding stream for the airport outlined by the Government after it is cut loose from the DAA,” said Mr Dooley.
“I want the Government come clean on the debt issue and ensure that Shannon will not be saddled with historical debt. It must also ensure that Shannon retains control of Aer Rianta International and it valuable revenue generating potential.
“Aer Rianta International was born, nurtured, and grown out of the Mid-West to become a major success story, and it must remain local.”
He said what was happening with Shannon Development was very worrying.
“The Government has decided to tear up a very successful organisation. The tourism functions are going to Fáilte Ireland, the business support and investment functions are going to Enterprise Ireland, and the IDA and what’s left will be folded into the new airport body.
“Dismantling Shannon Development will take the investment focus off the region at a time when more focus is needed. I believe a world-class aviation industry can be developed at Shannon that supports employment across the region, but that will involve a solid footing for the airport — something the Government has failed to provide today. Nowhere in today’s announcement is there any indication how passenger numbers or increased air services will be provided at Shannon Airport.”
Mayo Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary expressed concerns over potentially serious implications for Knock airport.
“The transport minister has given strong indications that there will be debt write-off at Shannon,” said Mr Calleary. “If this is to happen, I want to see any debts that Knock Airport may have written off in a similar fashion.
“If this new deal includes incentives for airlines to operate out of Shannon, I will demand a replica deal for airlines operating out of Knock. All I want is a level playing pitch.”
Ryanair criticised the move, claiming that transferring the airport from one failed semi-state body to another would result in no real change or reform at the airport.
“Shannon’s traffic has fallen from over 3.6m in 2007 to 1.6m in 2012,” said head of communication Stephen McNamara. “Ryanair does not believe that a semi-state company like Shannon Development will make Shannon either cost-competitive or cost-efficient.
“The Government’s failure to sell Shannon is also a missed opportunity to generate real proceeds with which to pay down either the DAA’s or the Government’s huge debts.”
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