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Leah Farrell

'A major blow': Shannon and Cork airport bosses call for more government support after Ryanair base closures

Calls for rapid airport testing have been backed by the chair of Dáil Covid Committee.

SHANNON GROUP CHIEF executive Mary Considine has called on the government to introduce a Covid testing regime at Irish airports that would “restore confidence and get aviation moving safely again”.

Michael McNamara — independent TD for Clare and chair of the Special Dáil Committee for Covid-19 Response — has backed calls for rapid testing to be rolled out at all Irish airports.

Their remarks follow confirmation by Ryanair that it plans to temporarily shutter its Shannon and Cork Airport bases for the winter in a bid to cut capacity from 60% down to 40%.

Speaking this morning, Ryanair group chief executive Michael O’Leary said that while he “deeply regretted” these cuts, they have been “forced upon us by government mismanagement of EU air travel”. 

“This is very disappointing news not only for Shannon based Ryanair employees and all our airport team but for the whole region who rely on the services that Ryanair provide. We have done everything in our power to retain the base, ” Considine said.

“What we need now is a clear pathway to recovery for aviation. We had hoped that it would start with a harmonised EU traffic light system. While this was endorsed by Ireland, the measures proposed fall short of what the industry requires.

“This urgently needs to be addressed and supported by a testing regime at airports to restore confidence and get aviation moving safely again,” Considine added.

Niall MacCarthy, Cork Airport managing director, said his team were “devastated by the news”.

“Cork Airport was Ireland’s fastest-growing airport before Covid-19 and we are now looking at a 95% plus reduction in traffic levels for this coming winter compared to last year,” he added.

However, he said that “with the appropriate financial supports and travel policies from government, we will work tirelessly to secure the return of the Ryanair base at Cork ahead of next summer”.

As part of Budget 2021, the government announced a €31.3m allocation to all regional airports.

Some €21.3m will be allocated under the Regional Airports Programme. Another €10m for Shannon and Cork airports will come from a separate exchequer-funded programme.  

But Clare TD McNamara said this afternoon that funding alone will not solve the problem.

Backing Considine’s calls, he said, “Testing protocols should be agreed at all Irish airports to satisfy the requirements of destination airports.

“Shannon and those who rely on it for connectivity need the introduction of testing, just as many airports across Europe have implemented to enable their aviation sector to function,” he added.

On the ropes

Local business groups, unions representing staff and politicians have described the news as a hammer blow for the affected regions.

Ian Mc Donnell, the Fórsa trade union official who represents Ryanair pilots, expressed disappointment in Ryanair management’s lack of communication.

“The announcement by Ryanair today that it is to close its Cork base puts Cork Airport on the ropes and will be devastating for the staff impacted directly and indirectly,” said Conor Healy, chief executive of Cork Chamber. 

He has called for further “direct financial support from government in addition to that announced and welcomed on Budget Day”.

Violet-Anne Wynne, Sinn Féin TD for Clare said, “This morning’s news will come as another major blow to Shannon Airport and the entire Shannon region. 

“In a week where the government committed around €5 million to Shannon Airport, along with their pledge to sign up to the EU Traffic Light system in Tuesday’s Budget, it would appear this may be a case of too little, too late.

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