In late 1986, a US charter airline, Blue Army/Skystar International, sought permission to fly from Knock Airport direct to the US without a stopover at Shannon in summer 1987.
The company’s plan was to transport 5,000 pilgrims to two sites on mainland Europe before visiting Knock as the last leg of the route before the return journey back to the US.
While not specified in legislation, all flights between Ireland and the US stopped in Shannon under a bilateral air service agreement that had existed over the previous 40 years.
Knock Airport — the brainchild of local cleric, Monsignor James Horan — opened in October 1985 with £9.8m funding from the government, to mixed reaction given its controversial location in the middle of an elevated bog in an isolated part of the west of Ireland.
The Minister for Communications, Jim Mitchell, said any departure from the requirement of the Shannon stopover would represent a significant change in policy. He claimed such a change would call into question the Government’s commitment to the maintenance of Shannon as the sole transatlantic gateway.
“It would give the US a reason to seek a relaxation of overall policy on the Shannon stop,” he warned. Mr Mitchell said such a decision would also undermine the large-scale investment which Aer Rianta had made on facilities at Shannon.
“A concession to [Knock] would be seen as a lessening of the state’s commitment to the mid-west/Shannon region, and would undoubtedly lead to an uproar in the Shannon area since the change would be perceived as a potential threat to jobs in the entire mid-west region,” he predicted.
The Minister said it would probably also lead to pressure from Dublin and Cork to also run direct flights to the US.
Mr Mitchell advised the Cabinet that the proposal by Blue Army/Skystar International was “not of sufficient importance to justify a change in policy on the status of Shannon with the downside risks involved.”
In the early 1990s, the agreement was altered to allow flights from the US operate to Dublin via Shannon.
The Shannon stopover only formally ended with the introduction of the open skies aviation agreement between the EU and the US which came into effect in March 2008.