New agreement for US-bound air passengers


Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey today announced an agreement with the US Government that he believes gives Ireland the potential to become a major hub for transatlantic airlines in Europe.

At Shannon airport, Mr Dempsey confirmed that he is to sign an inter-governmental agreement with the US Government in Washington DC on Monday to introduce pre-clearance facilities for US bound passengers at Shannon and Dublin airports.

Chairman of the Shannon Airport Authority (SAA) Pat Shanahan described the announcement as “an historic day for Shannon”, forecasting that the airport will be able to rebuild its transatlantic business following the introduction of ‘open skies’ by offering effectively ‘domestic US flights’ to airlines.

At a packed press briefing, Limerick East TD and Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea said: “It is a great day for Shannon and it is a day in the future that we will look back as a watershed and an historic day and a day which the future of this airport and the development of this business at this airport was secured.”

The pre-clearance agreement between the two governments will allow for passengers to undertake all necessary inspections before departing Shannon and Dublin for the US. Up to now, only immigration clearance was provided at Shannon and Dublin, with customs and agriculture inspections taking place on arrival in the US.

The SAA is investing €20 million to have the facilities in place for next summer while Dublin airport’s facilities will be in place for the summer 2010.

Mr Shanahan said: “This agreement has the potential for Shannon to emerge as a major transatlantic aviation gateway."

He added: “It has the potential to significantly increase the number of transatlantic flights daily in and out of Shannon, which will strengthen revenue through increased landing and handling charges and support employment levels at the airport in the process.

“Becoming the first airport in Europe to have these facilities in place will be a very timely boost for Shannon airport considering the current global economic downturn as well as the full onset of Open Skies.”

Mr Shanahan added: “In addition to fast-tracking access for passengers flying from or through Shannon to US international airports, pre-clearance will also enable services to be established directly into any domestic US airport. This will make Shannon an ideal airport for low-cost transatlantic carriers and open the way for significant corporate jet business into any location in the US.”

Today’s announcement comes against the background of a difficult year for Shannon airport.

Figures for the first three quarters of this year show that passenger traffic is down 13 per cent at the airport with the SAA anticipating a 14 per cent decrease at the end of the year. To the end of September, transatlantic traffic was down 24 per cent and London traffic 16 per cent following the introduction of the ‘open skies’ agreement in April and the ending of the Heathrow route in January.

Asked about the potential revenues to be generated for the SAA from the pre-clearance facilities, Mr Shanahan said: “That is an open question. It depends on how successful the airport is in attracting new airlines to Shannon. It will add to the revenues of the airport, there is no doubt about that.”

The pre-clearance facilities were initially due to be in place for summer 2008 to compensate for the loss of the Shannon stop-over. However, Mr Dempsey said there were a number of constitutional and legal difficulties to overcome in reaching agreement with the US.

Mr Dempsey said: “This agreement will have major benefits for Ireland. The US authorities have told us that they currently have no plans to extend pre-clearance elsewhere in Europe. This should give Ireland a comparative advantage in the highly competitive transatlantic aviation sector.”

“Passengers from Shannon and Dublin airports will benefit from uninterrupted passage through US airports on arrival saving time and hassle. Transatlantic airlines will benefit from being able to fly into less congested and less expensive domestic terminals on arrival at US airports. This should lead to easier access to aircraft stands thereby minimising the time between touchdown and passengers disembarking."

Fine Gael deputy foreign affairs spokesman and Clare TD Pat Breen said the Minister promised earlier this year that both the agreement and legislation would be in place before the end of the year.

"Today the Minister has only fulfilled half of that promise. The legislation to give effect to the facility must come before the House at the earliest opportunity so that the facility can be up and running by June of next year.”