Aer Lingus Belfast move hits Shannon routes
Aer Lingus today unveiled eight new routes from Belfast amid controversy over its decision to take its Heathrow flights out of Shannon and transfer the slots to the North.
Belfast International Airport will take the Heathrow slots, becoming the airline's first hub outside the Republic. In all, Aer Lingus will fly eight routes from Belfast, investing some €150 million.
The airline said its decision reflected its commitment to profitable growth, low fares and value for shareholders.Forty-four workers are to lose their jobs, but the uncertainty that this decision creates, will be felt by those hundreds of other workers employed by Aer Lingus, by the airport and by the private sector
Jan O'Sullivan, Labour Party
However, the Shannon move was condemned by Opposition politicians, by the trade union Siptu, and by the Council for the West, the independent body established by bishops in the region.
Siptu said it would make the retention of the routes "a national issue", seeking the support of other unions, the business community and politicians from the mid-west region.
Workers at Shannon airport were also angry to have learned the news in media reports. It is expected that up to 100 jobs may be lost at Shannon as a result of the Heathrow move. The Shannon-Heathrow flights account for about 320,000 passengers, or 10 per cent of the airport's traffic.
Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion went to Shannon to address staff, prior to his trip to Belfast to unveil the new routes.
Mr Mannion and other Aer Lingus executives were welcomed to the Northern Ireland Assembly by First Minister the Rev Ian Paisley.
In a statement, the Aer Lingus chief said: "The timing of our entry into the market enables us to capitalise on a strong commercial opportunity and also encourages the growing economic relationship between the north and south of the island of Ireland".
Dr Paisley and junior minister Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin were at Stormont to hear details of the service from Belfast International Airport (BFS) to destinations including London Heathrow, Amsterdam, Budapest and Rome.
Belfast will become the first centre outside the Republic for the carrier. The first flights will take off in October or November with Heathrow on stream early next year.
Aer Lingus said three Airbus A320 planes will be based at BFS and will primarily serve Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol.
"The new base gives the potential for up to one million new passengers per year and will comprise a total investment of €150 million. Over 100 new jobs will be created directly through local recruitment of pilots and cabin crew," Aer Lingus said.
It is also expected to confirm flights from Belfast to Barcelona, Geneva, Faro and Malaga.
General president of Siptu Jack O'Connor said the decision to withdraw services from Shannon would have "very serious consequences for employment and industry in the West of Ireland".
"Over the past nine months, Aer Lingus ceo Dermot Mannion specifically advised our representatives that any new developments by the airline would not be at the expense of any existing station," he said.
"The Shannon-Heathrow route is a profitable one with no competition - and Mr Mannion has acknowledged that. Heathrow is the gateway to the world and Aer Lingus admitted they have other slots to lease there."
Mr O'Connor added that the decision has major implications for the Government's Development Plan for investment in the West of Ireland.We will be seeking the support of other trade unions, the local business community and politicians from the mid-west in opposing Aer Lingus's attempt to abandon Shannon and the west
Siptu general president Jack O'Connor
Early sign of the effect on employment in the region emerged this evening when Element Six, formerly De Beers Industrial Diamond Division, said hundreds of jobs at the company are at risk because of the decision.
General Manager Ken Sullivan said: "This company, now employing 600 people, will have a very uncertain future in Shannon if an alternative route or carrier is not identified before the Aer Lingus service is withdrawn.
"With Ireland now an expensive place in which to do business, the declared national strategy is to provide high end services. Without a Shannon - Heathrow link, such operations cannot survive in Shannon," Mr O'Sullilvan said.
The global company has been operating in Co Clare for 45 years.
Limerick East Labour Party TD Jan O'Sullivan said today's announcement was a "huge backward step" for the entire mid-west region and called for action from Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey.
Ms O'Sullivan added that the manner in which the Aer Lingus staff at Shannon were informed was "most regrettable".
"It seems that Aer Lingus saw fit to inform the media about this development, rather than go to the bother of informing their own workers directly. By the time [Aer Lingus chief executive] Dermot Mannion faced the music by addressing the staff today, they had already learned of their fate from the media. That is simply unacceptable in this day and age," she said.
Shannon-based mayor of Clare Patricia McCarthy said local people were "reeling" from the announcement.
Business body Ibec's regional director, Chris O'Donovan, said yesterday it would be "naive in the extreme" to believe that employment and investment in the region would not be affected.
Additional reporting: PA