RYANAIR’S second-in-command Michael Cawley has said he sees no reason why the airline can’t grow passenger numbers at Shannon back towards the two million mark if it can strike a suitable bargain on charges.
Loss of Ryanair traffic accounts for most of the over two million passengers Shannon has shed over the last six years. Critics of the former management team at Shannon contended that Ryanair’s base deal had allowed it such a position of dominance that it scared off the competition and left Shannon vulnerable to the airline’s demands.
Ryanair’s numbers at Shannon had reached almost two million on around 30 routes in 2008 when the airline began to slash services over the imposition of the airport departure tax and increases in passenger charges.
But last week’s announcement that Ryanair is to reinstate the Shannon-Alicante route it last plied in 2010 will bring total traffic this year close to 500,000 on 10 routes.
This - as well as frequency increases to Palma and Malaga - was, Mr Cawley said, indicative of Ryanair’s “new relationship with Shannon” which has been independent of the DAA and under new management since January 1.
While details of the charges Ryanair will pay on Alicante are being kept under wraps, Mr Cawley indicated it was more favourable than what pertained under the DAA regime and Shannon’s new ability to strike its own deals had been instrumental.
The travel tax and airport charges were the only reason why Ryanair’s Irish traffic had declined in the same period it had doubled its total traffic from 40 million to 80 million passengers “against a background of deep recession in Europe”, Ryanair’s deputy chief executive said.
“The proposition put out there repeatedly by the Department of Transport and some politicians that the reason travel is not growing is because of the economy is wrong, wrong, wrong,” he asserted.
“When we talk about being able to bring millions of tourists into this country, we genuinely mean it. The only impediment is airport costs and aviation tax. Don’t let anybody tell you that a route is saturated or air travel can’t be expanded. I have no sense of the limit of what Ryanair can do if costs are low enough and fares are low enough. Who would have ever thought Ryanair could bring two million passengers to Shannon like we did? That was beyond people’s wildest dreams but it wasn’t the limit of what could be done...in our view that kind of growth can be achieved again.”
But that would depend on getting a deal from Shannon that the company was negotiating on but “isn’t quite there yet”.
A year ago, Mr Cawley came to Limerick to say Ryanair could deliver one million passengers to Shannon if it was exempted from passenger charges on the additional traffic. This was rejected by the DAA as unsustainable for a commercially airport which needed revenue of its own.But speaking at the Clarion Hotel, Mr Cawley pointed to Gatwick as a model that could be followed in boosting retail and other ancillary revenue.
Anyone looking around Gatwick would notice the shortage of seats and other methods employed to get passengers to spend in shops and restaurants, he said.
“There are loads of opportunities to spend and Gatwick takes £11 pound from passengers in discretionary spend, a multiple of what the take from airlines, that is the model of the future,” he declared.
“When we bring people travelling they are in spending mode and if airports can finance their costs through that, they can end up not having to charge for passengers at all.
“Years ago, the American tourist buses that went around this country were paid by the shops to visit them. Blarney and Killarney would pay them and the tourists would come in and spend. That is the analogy here. We bring our passengers to an airport. We should be, and in some cases we are being, paid to bring them,” Mr Cawley said.
Certain airports in Spain were paying Ryanair to fly tourists in and while he didn’t expect such an offer at Shannon right now, he had “every confidence” the airport “could benchmark itself against the good airports in Europe”.