Published on November 29th, 2017 | by Mark Dwyer0
Shannon Pushes for Better Airport Policy as it Plans Infrastructure Development
The Chief Executive of the Shannon Group has said that airport policy in Ireland is leading towards the country having only a single airport, in Dublin, describing it as “very immature”. Matthew Thomas said that the evidence showed Dublin Airport had increased its market share from 72% in 2005 to 87% and was increasing its dominance at an incredibly fast pace. He said that despite the growing market across the island that Shannon Airport’s share had fallen from 5.4% to 5.1% since it achieved independence from daa. Nonetheless, the airport had managed to increase passenger numbers by 25%. The CEO said the Shannon Group had “huge investment plans” (see below).
Echoing this sentiment, Joe Gill, writing in the Irish Examiner said “Ireland needs more aircraft repair firms, not just lessors … the number of MRO companies resident in Ireland is relatively small. There is one at Dublin Airport and a handful in Shannon. Knock has a small tear-down facility, but there are none in Cork, Waterford, Derry, or Kerry.
If we have lots of land and quiet runways in airports outside of Dublin, why is it beyond the wit of policymakers and airfield owners to devise a strategy that attracts a wave of MRO investments?”
“Imagine if you could induce an investment programme that created hundreds of additional jobs in Shannon, Cork, and at other airports outside Dublin. Not only would it create more tax revenue for the exchequer, but it would also inject economic activity into the regional economies. It is an uncomfortable truth that the regions beyond the Pale are underperforming the recovery. The lack of nationwide, high-speed broadband partly explains this differential, but the absence of tailored policies that turbo-charge certain sectors is another. MRO needs a political champion to energise activity and investment at airports outside Dublin.”
Government policy may not be helping Shannon but it hasn’t stopped airlines looking for opportunities. Last Friday, IAG CEO Willie Walsh addressed an audience of almost 300 business executives at Shannon Chamber’s president’s lunch in Dromoland Castle Hotel. While there may be bigger opportunities in continental Europe for International Airlines Group’s stable of airline brands, IAG, through Aer Lingus, will look at opportunities for Shannon. The event was sponsored by aircraft leasing company, GECAS, and supported by leading aviation companies such as Eirtech Aviation, IAC, Atlantic Aviation Group, Lufthansa Technik, Shannon Airport and Clare County Council.
Describing Aer Lingus as the “trophy asset”, Walsh said that IAG’s rationale for purchasing the airline was the opportunity offered by its transatlantic network, the benefits from Ireland’s geographic position, both for Shannon and Dublin, and pre-clearance, which, he said, is the envy of a lot of airports around the world.
“We have added 6 new transatlantic destinations, most recently a new Dublin to Seattle service, expanded the number of aircraft in the fleet, and have ordered 8 new 180-seater Airbus A321LR aircraft for delivery in 2018 to expand our transatlantic network. We are fully committed to exploiting the opportunities we saw when we purchased Aer Lingus.”
Welcoming Mr Walsh to Dromoland, Shannon Chamber president Julie Dickerson did question why Aer Lingus would extend its main hub in Dublin, creating additional congestion at the airport and the M50 motorway, when Shannon and Cork have underutilised capacity and the infrastructure. Mr Walsh pointed out that Aer Lingus would not have been able to introduce the new Seattle to Dublin route if it didn’t have customers flying from Europe and the UK into Dublin to connect.
“There is no way there would be sufficient demand in the local market to sustain a route to US destinations like Seattle, Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or San Francisco. But, Shannon can support a viable network of flights and Aer Lingus will look at opportunities for Shannon,” he concluded.
Norwegian have also seen opportunities at Shannon. Dominic Tucker, Norwegian sales manager for Ireland and Britain, said earlier in the year that “Shannon to Stewart is outselling Dublin to Stewart proportionally”. And he revealed that Irish sales are performing very well, but said the airline needs to get Irish passengers buying more on-board, and more on top of the basic fare, as they tend to avoid paying for ancillaries like baggage and meals.
He wants to see the B787 introduced on some Irish transatlantic routes, and can see them being redeployed in the lower-demand winter routes on the likes of a Dublin-Cape Town route. He says while the Dreamliner is a definite possibility for Ireland, he says the airlines is bedding in for now with its 737 family.
Runway Upgrade, new Fire Ground and an A380 Hangar?
The Lagan Asphalt Group have completed a €15 million resurfacing project on Ireland’s longest runway, 06/24 at Shannon, eight weeks ahead of schedule. The upgrade also included the replacement of runway edge and centre line lighting with energy efficient LED lighting, ducting and other associated works. A team of 90 people and 70 vehicles worked on the runway at night to avoid disrupting flights. The project was financed through a loan secured from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. The Lagan Group are also involved in the resurfacing project of runway 10/28 in Dublin.
Shannon Airport will get two new state-of-the art High Reach Extendable Turret (HRET) fire tenders next year. The 6×6 Panthers, supplied by firefighting and rescue equipment firm Rosenbauer, are powered by 750 brake horsepower engines and boast thermal imaging mounted cameras to help firefighters identify the hottest part of the aircraft during an emergency. The vehicles also include the clinical Rosenbauer Stinger high reach extendable turret (HRET) which can deliver 6,000 litres of water and foam per minute over a distance of more than 90 metres. Pat O’Brien, chief officer fire & rescue of Shannon Airport’s fire service said “Ensuring the safety of our passengers and staff is of paramount importance to the management team at Shannon Airport. This new, innovative equipment will have safety benefits for both airport fire service staff and passengers.”
Shannon will be the first Irish Airport to acquire this new firefighting equipment which will be delivered in 2018. Belfast International Airport will also be acquiring these tenders next year.
Interested in buying a 727?
In a related move, Shannon Airport management has invited tenders for the removal of the former Iberia B727 which has been grounded at Shannon since September 2001. It arrived from Madrid as EC-CFA and was purchased by Republic Advanced Freighters and was registered in the US as N907RF. It never left Shannon and was eventually acquired by the airport and used for training fire crews.
Director of Operations at Shannon Niall Maloney said “The aircraft continues to this day to be used by the Fire and Rescue service as a training aircraft. The principal exercises/drills include appliances positioning, smoke logging the aircraft and associated BA drills, search drills, external fires and cutting equipment drills.”
“A significant investment is now being made by the airport to improve our on-site training infrastructure and in this regard, having previously secured planning permission, we recently completed phase 1 situated to the north of the airfield. The works were principally to carry out the ground preparations work and platform for the siting of an aircraft fire rig. The second phase includes the siting of a gas operated fire rig. The rig has already been purchased and once commissioned will eliminate the requirement for retaining the former Iberia B727,” Mr Maloney added.
New A380 Hangar for Shannon?
The A380 was never mentioned but it has been widely reported by some media outlets. Speaking at a Clare County Council meeting on 14th November, Shannon Group CEO Matthew Thomas said they hoped to go ahead with construction of the hangar next year. “The building of hangars are central to the growth of the aviation and aerospace cluster at Shannon. Hangars are low margin and expensive. We hope to build one capable of accommodating the world’s largest aircraft next year if the financials add up,” he told the council members. The world’s largest aircraft is of course the Antonov AN-225 which has an eight meter wider wingspan than the A380 at 88 meters and is eleven meters longer.