Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh announced midweek that Executive Helicopters, based in Woodford in Galway, was the “preferred tenderer” for a four-year air service agreement.
Under the new contract, he said, daily return flights by helicopter will be provided between the islands and Galway Airport from October to September 2019.
However, it is expected up to 40 jobs will be lost as a result of Aer Árann Islands losing the contract after 45 years of uninterrupted service to the islands.
Three years ago, a campaign Coiste leis an Seirbhís Aeir a Chosaint (Save our Air Service committee) was launched across Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oirr after widespread speculation that the public service obligation funding, to maintain the service, was to be withdrawn by the Government.
Inis Meáin Knitting Company managing director Tarlach de Blácam said people had been taken aback at the decision and said a helicopter service was simply not viable.
“We are absolutely shocked. People are really, really, upset at this. It’s another way of doing what they tried to do three years ago which was to remove the service.
“A helicopter service simply won’t work, not with the weather conditions we get here in the winter. What they want is to offer us is a ‘Mickey Mouse’ service and when that is proven not to work, then pull it completely. It’s obvious they want to kill the service,” he said.
Mr de Blácam said the decision could jeopardise his business which exports knitwear around the world.
“I employ 18 people. We are the largest employer on any offshore island. I am going to have to look at our whole business model. If this comes to pass, we simply may not be able to operate,” he said.