A “NEW ERA” for Shannon Airport could see passenger numbers rise to 2.5 million a year by 2018 and up to 3,500 new jobs delivered within the same timeframe, according to the government.
While the separation of Shannon from the Dublin Airport Authority sets ambitious job creation targets, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said on Monday that these were “very realistic”. He also stressed that the new management at Shannon would be free to set their own charges regime to win new airline business.
And the final report of the task force detailed to explore opportunities for aviation business development on Shannon Development lands around the airport stated that the assumptions in the plan were “conservative” and that the ambition to create an International Aviation Services Centre (IASC) had been “robustly tested and validated by KPMG on behalf of the Department of Transport”.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan could introduce the tax measures to nurture an IFSC-style aviation and aeronautics hub in Shannon as early as tomorrow’s budget. Aircraft maintenance and leasing, cargo handling and training for pilots and aircraft mechanics are among the chief growth areas identified in the report.
As had been widely flagged, the Government intends to free Shannon from the DAA unencumbered by its €100 million-plus debts. But opposition politicians and former Aer Rianta International (ARI) executives at Shannon have said the wiping of Shannon’s debts is scant consolation for what they regard as the loss of Shannon-based ARI to the DAA.
On Monday, Minister Varadkar again stressed that Shannon was never going to be both cleared of its debts and retain ARI. The airport retailer would need the backing of the parent company if it needed to borrow to invest in its assets overseas, the minister said.
Rose Hynes, who chaired the aviation business development task force, has welcomed the government’s adoption of its key recommendations.
She anticipates the creation of up to 3,500 jobs within a three-to-five-year period across a cluster of diverse international, primarily aviation-related, business centered on the airport and building on the existing cluster of 40 such companies operating at Shannon, which already employ 1600.
Welcoming the announcement, Ms Hynes confirmed that, pending separation, 1,000 of those posts have already been committed by two existing Shannon-based companies, one of which involves 800 plus jobs within three years.
“This is the beginning of a new era for Shannon Airport. December 31, 2012 has now been set as the date for the separation of Shannon. This will be followed by the second phase of the process, the merging of the airport with activities of a restructured Shannon Development.
“The immediate focus of the separated Shannon Airport will be the growth of passenger numbers but the future for Shannon will also involve the development of innovative new business streams, with strong job creation potential.
“We have spent the past five months working towards separation. The process has involved discussions, many of which are at an advanced stage, with airline partners and industry, both of which are committed to investing in Shannon pending separation,” said Ms Hynes.
Minister Varadkar said: “The decision taken today is an historic one and will free the board and management of Shannon Airport, together with their employees, to bring a fresh approach to the future development of the airport. A key element of that future will be the development of the International Aviation Services Centre (IASC) in and around the airport, building on a range of aviation-related activities already undertaken in Shannon such as aircraft maintenance and leasing”.
And Fine Gael TD for Limerick City Kieran O’Donnell said: “This is the most positive announcement we have heard about Shannon in years. The years of limbo are ending, and we are now seeing a completely new era for Shannon, for Limerick, the Mid-West and Ireland.”