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Aran Islands helicopter contract on hold (for now), but residents are still concerned

Locals say their objections have not yet been addressed.

QUESTIONS REMAIN TO be answered about the Aran Islands’ air transport services, despite the recently announced extension of the state’s contract with Aer Arann, residents have said.

The Department of the Gaeltacht confirmed earlier this week that the airline, which lost out on a four-year tender last month, will continue to provide the service until February 2016.

It said the extension was necessary to obtain “clarification on the availability of Galway Airport” for the duration of the contract with its preferred tender, Galway-based helicopter company Executive Helicopters Limited.

The decision to withdraw funding for daily airplane flights to the three islands has been met with significant opposition from residents in recent weeks.

And locals are “disappointed” that the helicopter contract has only been delayed, according to Cathy Ní Ghoill of the Inis Mór co-op, Comharchumann Forbartha Árann Teo.

The development, she said, “leaves many questions to be answered”.

They’ve just kicked it down the road for a few months to find out if the airport is suitable to use.

Concerns

Most of the objections to the helicopter service centred around it being run out of Galway Airport in Carnmore, which is some five miles east of Galway city.

The Aer Arann service currently flies from Inverin, a 10-minute drive from the Rossaveal port from where ferries to the island depart.

Islanders fear that the 30-mile distance between Carnmore and Rossaveal, an hour-long journey, will leave travellers stranded if flights are cancelled.

Ní Ghoill said residents have not received any response to queries about whether the helicopter tender would come into effect once the four-month extension to Aer Arann’s contract ends.

In a recent meeting with locals, Joe McHugh, the Gaeltacht minister, had not provided clarity as to whether the new contract would go ahead if the airport is found to be available, she said.

The helicopter tender, if introduced, will result in the loss of some 40 jobs at Aer Arann, which has provided an airplane service to the Aran Islands for the past 45 years.

The new contract had been capped at an annual cost of €900,000 – a 30% cut to the tender currently in place with Aer Arann.

Read: From hand-knitted socks to Grace Kelly – the evolution of the Aran jumper

Read: ‘Abandoned’ islanders slam scrapping of plane service

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Catherine Healy

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