Once the crown jewel of Ireland’s west coast, Shannon Airport is struggling to regain its prestige despite being separated from the then Dublin Airport Authority almost a decade ago.
When that split took place in 2013, then-transport minister Leo Varadkar said the airport needed to grow to 2.5 million passengers by 2021 if it was to have a future.
Passenger numbers reached 1.7 million in 2019. And then Covid hit. The log jams in Dublin this summer forced people to wait in line for hours to check-in on a flight from the capital, leaving many wondering why the alternative on the other side of the M7 would be better used. I’m starting to wonder if it’s not.
Shannon’s ability to provide a “much easier passenger experience than other airports” could work well for the company, said chief executive Mary Considine. The airport is not only less crowded, but has better check-in and security technology than Dublin’s, but Considine says it’s not just transporting passengers west for takeoff.
“It’s not just about airports, it’s about balancing the national economy and using the infrastructure that’s already in the state to do it and reduce congestion.
“Here at Shannon, we have the ability to grow, provide solutions, and take the pressure off not just airports like Dublin, but the East Coast,” she said.
‘If you live somewhere along State Highway 7, you can get to Shannon as fast as you can drive to Dublin. I think Shannon has great potential.’
Moving Shannon was hassle free. ireland independence Visited on a Thursday lunchtime in early August. It’s peak holiday season, if not peak travel time.
According to Considine, the airport was busy early in the morning, but passengers were huddled on the ground.
Handling that crowd is quick and easy, thanks to a new €2.5 million security screening system. At Shannon, travelers no longer have to rummage through their luggage to retrieve liquids, umbrellas, or electronics.
Bags are simply loaded onto a conveyor belt, where advanced cameras and computers scan for potential threats to security guards.
But one of the reasons the queues are free-flowing is that they are small. The airport is currently operating at about one-third of its capacity and can handle up to 4.5 million passengers.
A return to 80% of pre-pandemic traffic this year will reach about 1.4 million, better than the 65% to 70% recovery the group predicted, but well below what the facility can handle. increase.
Can numbers go up significantly?
“Obviously, we are very dependent on what’s going on around the world. Not everything is under our control,” Ms. Considine said.
“We always have the ambition to grow, but it’s not so much what the headline numbers are, it’s what those routes are that really matter to support connectivity in the region.
“Given the turbulent times experienced by the entire aviation sector and the level of losses incurred, we cannot take for granted that services will return, so after Covid we are starting from scratch. across the spectrum.”
Routes to and from the US East Coast are Shannon’s bread and butter, in addition to flights to London Heathrow, which has imposed a daily cap of 100,000 passengers to deal with staff shortages.
U.S. routes are back, with Aer Lingus and U.S. carrier United serving daily flights to New York and Boston. However, Considine said it won’t be until 2024 that U.S. routes are fully back to pre-pandemic levels.
Ryanair is part of the airport’s recovery, operating 22 routes and having two aircraft stationed at Shannon. And Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling will launch a route to Orly, just south of Paris, next month.
A combination of private investment, bank debt and state aid are helping to finance the airport, which will return to profitability in 2021.
The industry has been in stagnation for almost two years.
When passenger numbers plummeted to 352,000 in 2020, Shannon qualified for €4.3 million in aid from the Ministry of Transport’s Regional Airports Program. This is a first for Shannon and a handout that Ms. Considine believes should continue after the pandemic.
“One of the things we are asking the government to help us recover from a really difficult time is to allow us to permanently participate in the Regional Airport Program.
“The industry was virtually stagnant for nearly two years, and then it stopped and started with limits. I was.
“It’s been really difficult for the industry. Partner airlines have lost a lot of money. I’m just saying.”
Historically, Shannon has been much more than an airport, being the center of many local industry and tourism ventures leading to the old Shannon Free Zone.
The element remains. The airport rents out industrial real estate to important employers, uses its aviation facilities to develop a high-tech aviation hub, and in July he announced that it will develop and test unmanned drones, electric vertical aircraft and self-driving vehicles. We are opening a €5.5 million “Future Mobility Campus”. .
But a decade after its split with the DAA, Shannon has yet to set foot. Regional attractions such as the Center are now part of the Shannon Airport Group. We put the airport at the center of our identity and marketing strategy.
Tourism and heritage assets have been transferred to other state agencies, and the process is expected to be completed “soon”, Considine said. Ann Post and Fingal County Council have already taken over Dublin attractions, and the rest will go to Limerick, Clare and Galway Councils.
Ms Considine could not comment on reports that Clare County Council is seeking €11 million in compensation for COVID-19 losses at attractions such as the Cliffs of Moher.
“There are a series of measures put together by the government to allow local governments to take on this. They have their own arguments,” she says.
“They will take over at some point in the future. At this point, they are still part of the Shannon Group.”
Shannon Group has also recently experienced some personnel changes.
Former Ayr Aran owner Padraig O Seidig stepped down as chairman last year after less than six months in office.
The role was then taken on by telecoms mogul Conal Henry.
“We are very fortunate that the minister has appointed a very strong chairman to the group,” Ms Considine said.
“We have very good dynamics on board. [who] Working very closely with management, [who], in turn, work closely with the people on the ground here. So I am sure we are in a very good place. ”
That’s what I thought when the opportunity arose for the CEO role in late 2019.
Born, raised, and still living in West Clare, Considine is proud of her area and the location of the airport there.
An accountant by training, she worked for the airport or its affiliates for nearly 30 years before assuming her current role in 2019, but had no grand plans to lead the group.
“I’m in a job that I feel makes a difference. More than saying, ‘OK, I’m married to a job in this area,’ I think that’s probably it.” I didn’t have grand plans. ”
She led the project to separate Shannon Airport from DAA, which was completed in 2013.
“When the opportunity arose for the CEO position at the end of 2019, I thought so.
“When the opportunity presented itself, I probably took it. I always believe in taking whatever comes my way and making it through. When the time is right.”
She believes splitting from the DAA was the right decision.
“Once you take responsibility for your own destiny, you can always make the right decisions for the group.”