There are fresh concerns over the future of Shannon slots at Heathrow following the latest ‘hit’ to tourism and business following a reduction in some weekly flights to meet the cap at London Airport on the number of passengers.
Aer Lingus has decided to cut one of its flights to Shannon from Heathrow in a move, which could continue for several weeks.
The Shannon Group has been informed by Aer Lingus that some flights on one of its three daily Aer Lingus services from Shannon to Heathrow have been canceled due to capacity reduction imposed by London Heathrow.
The group’s advice to passengers is to keep in touch with their airline for flight updates.
The following flights were cut EI387/388 London Heathrow – Shannon – London Heathrow from Tuesday to this Thursday and EI385 London Heathrow – Shannon on Saturday.
No cancellations are scheduled for next Friday or Sunday.
Lahinch hotelier Michael Vaughan described the latest cut as a “big blow” to tourism and business travel, as the flight is highly sought after by people traveling to or from another destination.
“This is a major blow, which I hope will be rectified in the near future. This is a vital tourist link and it is essential for Shannon Airport that this connection to a major hub remains.
“Hopefully a business case can be made for the return of this flight as soon as possible once the situation at Heathrow is resolved.
“Over the past two weeks I have had several guests wake up very early to catch a flight to Heathrow to return to the United States of America.
“A lot of Americans use airline miles and frequent flyer points to get holiday flights usually to London and then to get a connecting flight to Ireland.
“It has been an integral part of the tourist business for many years. If you don’t have availability via Heathrow, you will lose tourists. Heathrow is a vital gateway,” he said.
He pointed out that the Connecticut Chamber of Commerce can subsidize flights leaving that region, which Ireland cannot do due to EU state rules.
However, Mr Vaughan said Irish aviation policy needed to be changed to incentivize routes like the Shannon slot at Heathrow to promote more balanced regional development.
He said the government needed to come up with more creative solutions to bring more airlines to Shannon Airport which should have happened recently when there were long queues and delays at the airport from Dublin. If the rail link was improved from Dublin to Shannon, he said it would provide more opportunities to divert flights to Clare International Airport.
“All the tourists I met in May would have preferred flying through Shannon to experiencing the chaos at Dublin Airport. The investment in security and screening makes Shannon a very attractive airport to use. people can get from check-in to the plane in less than 20 minutes.
“There should be a more flexible approach to increasing capacity at undercapacity airports like Shannon when Dublin Airport is struggling,” he said.
Airlines have been instructed to cut flights from Heathrow to bring the number of outbound passengers passing through the airport down to 100,000 a day by September 11.
In a statement, Aer Lingus said it would seek to minimize disruption to passengers on flights by reassigning them to one of its other flights from Heathrow if possible.
In 2015, AIG pledged to maintain Shannon-Heathrow connectivity until next September following the government’s controversial decision to sell its remaining stake in Aer Lingus to new owners.
This latest reduction has raised concerns about the uncertainty surrounding Heathrow’s slots, which are vital for tourism in the region, multinational companies and future foreign investment.
Shannon Chamber chief executive Helen Downes said Aer Lingus’ decision had nothing to do with the load factor from Shannon or other airports, as it was due to the daily passenger cap at Heathrow to deal with long delays.
Ms Downes welcomed the continued engagement between the Shannon Group and the chamber on this issue.
“Companies had to deal with this scenario and in the short term they were able to do it until the flight returned. Passengers have been notified and companies are managing which will continue until mid-August.
“Once the operational challenges have been resolved, we hope to lift this restriction at the end of the summer season. We will be watching this very closely, as will businesses directly, as the desire and need to travel has increased,” she said.
Deputy Michael McNamara said it was unfortunate to see this flight cut due to capacity issues at Heathrow before adding that it had a disproportionate impact on Shannon compared to other airports as it has far fewer flights operating from Clare International Airport.
The independent deputy is worried about the future of Heathrow slots when previous guarantees expire next September following the government’s ‘short-sighted’ decision to sell its remaining stake in Aer Lingus.
With most EU countries able to use trains for public transport between countries, MP McNamara said this was not possible in Ireland, which depends on air connectivity for international travel.
He said it was important that Shannon Group management continues to seek to secure the connection to another European hub.
Fianna Fáil tourism and aviation spokesperson Cathal Crowe called the lack of security around Heathrow Road from Shannon Airport a political failure of the past.
“The landing slots, which were once reserved for Aer Lingus on the Shannon-Heathrow service, now belong to the IAG company, and it is now up to them, on a commercial whim, to decide where and how these slots must be used.
“We are only a few weeks away from the expiry of this guarantee and the government has no legal basis to obtain a new guarantee. We are now at the mercy of Aer Lingus and the IAG group as a whole.
“Commercially, the Shannon-Heathrow service has been very successful and before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic was carrying a large number of passengers.
“Based on this, I expect the service to continue well into the future, but it will no longer have warranty status.
“I think people who work in the aviation industry, and indeed those in Clare and the wider Midwest who have been strong supporters of Shannon Airport for years, may feel let down by the politicians of the past who have undersold the airport and insured by their actions. his status would be diminished.
“While we all love to see Ryanair planes take off to sunny destinations, Shannon’s core business revolves around transatlantic services and the all-important link to the international hub that is Heathrow,” he said.