The collapse of Stobart Air, which provided regional airline services to Aer Lingus on Saturday is a devastating blow and should serve as a major wake-up call to policymakers.
In a shock statement, the airline confirmed that it was moving to appoint liquidators to the company and that all scheduled flights were cancelled with immediate effect, all aircraft are grounded, and all 480 staff are now unemployed.
Stobart Air, which flew as Aer Lingus regional from Dublin and Belfast airports, served destinations such as Edinburgh; Exeter; East Midlands; Leeds; Birmingham and Manchester, also operated publicly subsidised routes within Ireland from Donegal and Kerry airports.
Any collapse of a company like this is regrettable but it comes amid loud anger from the aviation sector as to how it has been treated by the Government since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For many months, government policy and public health rhetoric from the likes of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, was at best unsympathetic to the plight of our aviation sector but at worst was openly hostile to it, they argue.
An unprecedented protest by airline pilots outside Leinster House and the Convention Centre two weeks ago sought to highlight their plight, with many saying they have suffered a 70% loss of income, racking up debt or having to walk away from their industry altogether.
An action plan given to the Government months ago has been ignored.
This week’s row over the reluctance to adopt rapid antigen testing has highlighted Ireland’s ultra-conservative approach which has had a very real impact on our aviation sector.
Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Transport Minister has become a focal point for criticism and his lack of engagement with the industry.
Responding to the Stobart Air announcement, Ryan said the announcement this morning is concerning news for the affected workers and for regional connectivity.
His junior minister Hildegarde Naughton said: “We are acutely aware of the ongoing impact of the pandemic on the sector and are working to secure these vital regional routes. The restoration of our regional connectivity is of critical importance and will be prioritised by the Government in the coming days.” The Government says it is acutely aware of the devastating impact that Covid-19 restrictions are having on the aviation sector and from the outset has sought to ensure that the aviation industry is in a position to rebound quickly when the public health situation allows.
Frankly, such commentary is simply not true. The Government for months ignored the true plight of the sector and only belatedly has moved to address such concerns.
While the Government says the sector has benefited to the tune of €300 million from State supports, these were the same supports offered to all other sectors.
For one of the worst affected industries, the lack of a targeted sectoral approach to preventing such eventualities like the Stobart Air collapse from happening has been highly questionable.
Inevitably, there will be political fallout from this development and the Government’s record is on this front far from stellar.