THE revival in fortunes at Shannon Airport continues with group CEO Neil Pakey predicting passenger traffic in 2014 could hit the 1.7 million mark.
That would amount to an annual increase of over 20% and a total throughput not seen at the airport for five years.
And Mr Pakey said he anticipates further growth - including on transatlantic traffic - in 2015, albeit at a more modest rate.
The Shannon boss confirmed that Stobart Air, whose services to Edinburgh, Birmingham and Bristol are being cut in early January, were carrying around 90,000 passengers a year through Shannon.
He conceded there was now pressure on Shannon to fill the gap in the UK regional market.
Mr Pakey said the Stobart (formerly Aer Arann) services in and out of Shannon had load factors consistently in excess of two thirds capacity and it was disappointing to lose them.
“But it is probably worth congratulating Stobart in a way while it hurts me to do it. They have won some new business recently. They have won two PSO routes (Kerry and Donegal to Dublin) announced last week and a big contract to do a flying programme for CityJet.
“So in some ways, they have done rather well but of course they only have a finite number of aeroplanes. All that has done is left a gap in the market and that is why we are able to talk positively with airlines about that gap in the market. So although they have taken that capacity out, we are of course pursuing the opportunities to fill it.”
One of the advantages at Shannon, Mr Pakey said was that any traffic from the British regions could also make connecting flights to the United States and passengers could clear American customs and immigration before leaving Shannon.
Transatlantic traffic was an area of the business Mr Pakey expected to grow again in 2015.
“The US market here is also strong and performing very well. I anticipate growth in that next year, in the transatlantic market. That is a testament to what has been going on here and also the Wild Atlantic Way initiative, which has been very strong in that regard. I expect to have some news from some of the US operators about expansions in capacity.
“Overall, growth will probably be slightly less next year in terms of percentages and it is really important that we also bed in what we have secured and it is up to the market to respond and fill the seats. Then Michael (O’Leary) is going to be happy and we are going to be in with a very competitive shout for the next period of expansion,” Mr Pakey said.
And while 2014 will be the first year in which Shannon has recorded double digit growth since 2006, group chairman Rose Hynes said the management team would not be resting on its laurels.
“We will take every year as it comes. I mean double digit growth here in Shannon has not been seen for a long, long time. That is great and I think we should take each year as it comes. Next year, we are going to go full on to grow passengers again,” she said.