BRITISH Airways has not been informed of any changes at the American border post at Shannon Airport that could affect its business-class only service from London City Airport to New York, the airline said this week.
But the prestigious carrier said it could look to â€œalternative routesâ€ if changes in shifts worked by US officials at Shannon adversely affect its schedule.
British Airways makes a transit stop at Shannon to take on fuel and to pre-clear passengers bound for the USA. This effectively means the twice-daily service is regarded as a US domestic flight and passengers donâ€™t have to go through time-consuming immigration and customs checks on landing at New York JFK.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar confirmed this week that the US pre-clearance facilities at Shannon were being curtailed with a change in work patterns by officials based at the Mid-West airport. The DAA invested over â‚¬20 million in setting up the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) post at Shannon in 2008.
â€œIt isnâ€™t just a matter for us but for the US authorities. They are the ones who pay for it, they pay for the staff although the capital investment in the airports came from the government, â€œ said Minister Varadkar.
â€œThe shift is being reduced, I think from 7am to 7pm at the moment, to 4pm. Three hours are being knocked off which obviously isnâ€™t good news for the airport but it affects one small flight of 18 people.â€ This is understood to mean BA, whose service through Shannon in fact carries up to 32 passengers.
Contacted by the Limerick Leader this week, British Airways said no changes in the hours of the operation of the Shannon facility had been communicated to the airline so far.
â€œWe have not officially heard of any changes to the staffing regime at Shannon Airport by the US Department of Homeland Security,â€ a spokesman said.
â€œThe service is now about to enter its third year of successful operation and has proved a popular route with customers thanks to our good working relationship with the authorities at Shannon Airport. However, if the changes were to occur, we would explore all options, including alternative routes.â€
The BA service departs London City at 1pm and 4pm every day. And the concern in Shannon is that if cutbacks make the later service unworkable for BA, the airline may quit the airport altogether.
At over 600 stopovers every year, Shannon makes up to â‚¬200,000 annually on passenger charges, with additional revenues from refuelling and other services.
If American officials clock out earlier, it could also damage private and corporate jet business. Shannon is the only airport outside the Americas where the US Government permits the pre-clearance of private jets.
And Joe Millar - executive chairman of Transaero Engineering Ireland, the maintenance firm which has just opened in Shannon - also expressed his concern over the changes.
Transaero had located in Shannon â€œnot only the for the (maintenance) skillsets here but the ability to develop our businessâ€, Mr Millar said.
And Transaero, as Russiaâ€™s second biggest airline, was interested in using the Shannon facility to pre-clear passengers en route from Moscow to the United States
â€œAny curtailment in time of operation of CBP would not help, â€œ Mr Millar said. Minister Varadkar said the changes at the Shannon CBP post was â€œdisappointingâ€ but said he had been assured by US authorities they remained â€œcommittedâ€ to pre-clearance at Shannon.