We have used this space often enough to reflect on the decline of Shannon Airport for a very long time – too long. We have been highly critical in the past but mostly saddened by the sight of a once busy airport lurching further into decline. But enough of that, for now we have something to celebrate: an airport on the way back, with a new confidence and a sense of purpose restored.
Last week, shortly before the Leader went to press, there came news that Shannon had won the overall Airport Achievement Award for 2014-2015 from the European Regions Airline Association (ERA). It may not have the recognition factor of the Oscars or the GAA All Stars, but it’s a gong worth winning in the airport business. It followed two other awards given to Shannon of late. It’s not too long ago when the idea of our airport picking up prizes would have seemed fanciful in the extreme. The Mid-West’s media contingent also got in on the awards act by handing one to the no-nonsense Rose Hynes, chairman of Shannon Airport at the Press Ball on Saturday night.
In an amusing speech to the members of the Fourth Estate, she regaled her audience by relating a comment made to her by Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary: “Shannon is going gangbusters, Rose. Don’t f*** it up.” What Mr O’Leary meant by that, one must presume, was something along the lines of “keep on keeping Ryanair happy and profitable – and we’ll keep putting new flights your way”. The rise in Shannon’s fortunes, certainly in terms of the number of Ryanair flights it now boasts, has gone hand in hand with a decline at Cork Airport. That reflects the enormous influence of the company Mr O’Leary leads. Shannon simply had to cut a mutually acceptable deal with Ryanair because its previous inability to do so was the single biggest reason for the calamitous decline in its fortunes. Call it a deal with the devil if you will, but the brutal reality of the era is that an Irish airport without a significant – and preferably increasing – Ryanair presence is going nowhere.
It would, of course, be premature in the extreme to say that Shannon is where it needs to be, but it would also be churlish not to recognise the good work done by committed people, led by chief executive Neil Pakey, which has begun to turn things around. As the economy continues to improve, a sustained rise in passenger numbers over each of the next five years would go a long way to restoring Shannon as a serious player again.
It has huge capacity for growth. The facilities are in place and the passengers are returning. Few who have personal acquaintance with those now presiding over the airport’s business would worry about them getting complacent. But the people of the Mid-West must play their part in this happy revival too, by flying Shannon and availing of the increasingly good choice of destinations it offers.