The decision by Aer Lingus to completely shut its crew base at Shannon Airport, and to temporarily close at Cork, has raised fears that the airline may be trying to abandon the two bases in favour of Dublin.
The airline blamed the move on its haemorrhaging of cash, with financial losses running at €465m since the onset of the Covid crisis. However, business leaders, analysts, trade unions, and politicians warned Aer Lingus about any retrenchment back to its Dublin airport hub.
The airline’s decision means the jobs of all 81 cabin crew at Shannon are at risk, while 45 ground staff at the airport will be laid off. At Cork, 138 cabin crew and 60 ground staff will be laid off from September through November.
Aer Lingus has tapped the public wage subsidy scheme and, as recently as February, received a loan of €150m from the State’s pandemic recovery fund.
Willie Walsh — who, until recently, headed up IAG, which owns Aer Lingus, British Airways, and Iberia — told thethat the Shannon closure was directly caused by the failure of the Government’s hotel quarantine directive for air travellers into Ireland.
Stephen Kinsella, associate professor of economics at University of Limerick, said the decision will set back Government policy “for balanced regional development by years”, meaning that the Dublin region will continue to overheat.
He also questioned the decision by the Government to sell the 25% stake in Aer Lingus five years ago.
Conor Healy, chief executive of Cork Chamber, said the temporary closure of Aer Lingus at Cork could be linked to the airport works there — but that the closure at Shannon showed that the challenges facing airports, airlines, and the tourism industry “won’t go away”.
Pat Dawson, chief executive at business group, the Irish Travel Agents Association, said tourism in the immediate region and beyond “will suffer as a result".
The Fórsa trade union, which represents up to 1,000 cabin crew and pilots at Aer Lingus, called on the Government for new support for industry “if and when planes start flying again”.
A union spokesman said Aer Lingus’s eight-decade link with Shannon meant “symbolically as well as commercially” that its withdrawal was huge.
The spokesman said it was not helpful to highlight the Government’s hotel quarantine regime as a reason for the closure as “even the casual observer knows that the impact of the pandemic has had a huge effect on aviation”.
Fianna Fáil Seanad spokesperson on transport, Timmy Dooley, said Aer Lingus should reconsider.
“The aviation sector is facing unprecedented challenges due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Government needs to do much more for the tourism and aviation sector,” said Mr Dooley.