Aer Lingus’s decision to scrap one of its Shannon transatlantic routes will deal a major blow to the region’s tourist industry, it was claimed tonight.
The former state-owned carrier will cut its Shannon to Chicago service from September as well as axe flights from Dublin to Washington and San Francisco in October.
Airline bosses blamed falling passenger numbers for the move but the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation warned businesses in the west dependent on tourism could go to the wall.
The moves comes just a day after Delta Airlines axed its transatlantic services from the west of Ireland.
Eamonn McKeon, CEO ITIC, said the announcement was a double-blow for the area.
“This is disappointing for Irish tourism generally, but particularly so for Shannon and the Western regions,” he said.
“It is a double blow for the West coming as it does within 24 hours of Delta Airlines announcing that it too was suspending its winter services from New York to Shannon.”
Aer Lingus said it was keeping its New York route under close review and Mr McKeon urged the airline to maintain the service.
“The massive investment made over the last decade in Irish tourism has guaranteed that the product offering is superb, and market research shows that Ireland is very high on the list of preferred destinations for US international travellers,” he said.
Shannon Airport Authority said the New York service was sustainable and important.
“Last winter Delta carried approximately 30,000 passengers through Shannon and a significant portion of these will now be available to Aer Lingus,” director Martin Moroney said.
“Retaining a JFK service is very important to us as it complements the very successful daily Continental Airlines service, which also serves the New York market through the Newark Hub.”
At the airline’s AGM last week chairman Colm Barrington warned the company was facing its most difficult period in its 73-year history.
He said a radical review of the business would be carried out as trading conditions had nose-dived in the first three months of the year with no indications of any improvement in the near future.
In March the airline reported losses of €107m for last year, blaming high fuel prices and the company’s massive long-term cost-saving plan.
Short-haul services will also be affected by the winter schedule review, with the number of aircraft based in Dublin cut from 24 to 22.
In Belfast, one plane is being taken out of action, with routes to Barcelona, Faro, Milan, Paris, and Rome and Faro all axed.
However new services from Belfast to Tenerife and Dublin to Fuerteventura and Tunisia will come into effect in October.
In Cork there will be additional frequencies on Manchester, Birmingham, Tenerife and Lanzarote routes.
Mr Barrington said the changes were necessary.
“These actions will help safeguard the long-term viability of the group and represent an important first step in the right sizing of our business,” he said.
“The board remains resolute in its objective of reducing operating costs, eliminating loss making operations and retaining a strong capital structure.”
Aer Lingus was slammed in 2007 when it axed its Shannon to Heathrow route and opened a new base in Belfast.
The route was restored last March.