The announcement last week by Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary that they are to reduce the number of routes, and frequency on remaining routes, operating from Shannon airport is a serious blow for the region.  2 years ago Ryanair were operating 35 routes from Shannon airport; from November this year Ryanair will have reduced this to 6 routes. Ryanair is now operating at less than 20% the capacity it had 2 years ago.  In April  2009 Ryanair were on track to deliver 1.9 million passengers through Shannon Airport and into the region. Now they project that this number will fall to less than 400,000 by the end of 2010.

The consequences of such a decline in numbers will have a serious negative impact on the region – there will be a drastic decline in tourist numbers which will impact every business operating in the region from the direct spend in hotels and restaurants, to the indirect expenditure in coffee shops, pubs and retailers to mention but a few. The negative economic impact of this decision cannot be underestimated and one must question the policy being pursued for the airport.

Ryanair have stated that this recent reduction in services from Shannon is as a direct result of the airport’s decision to increases in passenger charges. In an economic climate where the aviation industry is seriously suffering, increasing charges is not going to improve finances. In addition Aer Lingus have already announced a cut in their winter schedule. How many more cuts are going to occur? I fear a movement of business and passengers away from Shannon and towards Cork and even the regional airport in Kerry and I wonder what is the future direction, vision and plan for this international airport on our doorstep that is drifting more and more into decline.

As against increasing charges at Shannon Airport, is there merit in making Shannon Airpoort a free airpoort for landing charges for European traffic and combine this with a passenger departing tax of Euro 10.00. Combine this with changing the current government levy from as fixed fee to a % of the airline ticket fee to make it more equitable on the basis that a fee of 10% of a Euro 20.00 ticket is palatable or for that matter 10% of a Euro 50.00 ticket.  This would have the affect of encouraging Ryanair and other low-cost airlines back into Shannon, boosting the traffic numbers through the airport again and I for one would be happy to pay a passenger departing tax if it meant that I had the increased choice of more routes and lower fares from Ryanair and similar aiirlines and that our region was benefitting from increased passenger traffic. Whether this is the right model or not is open to debate, but let’s have that debate and put all the options on the table before we have no airport left in the region to debate at all.