Aer Lingus may offer more Shannon routes

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AER LINGUS will explore the possibility of launching new short-haul routes from Shannon airport, which has seen its traffic numbers collapse in the recession.

The airline’s chief executive, Christoph Mueller, indicated that any new short-haul routes would be operated by its regional service, run by Aer Arann, and could involve flights to the UK and other airports in Ireland.

“We are looking into that currently but no decision has been taken,” Mr Mueller said. “We see that our Heathrow route to Shannon works quite well.

“We will try to increase connectivity to and from Shannon, not only to the United States but also intra-Ireland and from Shannon to the UK because there is a strong market to Manchester and Birmingham. But you cannot service this with an [Airbus] A320 jet. But we feel obliged and committed to do whatever we can.”

This would mark a U-turn by Aer Lingus in relation to Shannon.

It pulled its Heathrow route in 2007 amid controversy, saying its cost base there was uncompetitive. The slots were switched to a new base in Belfast. The Shannon-Heathrow service was restored last year and is its only short-haul service at the airport.

Shannon faces a steep decline in traffic this year as Ryanair downgrades its base to one aircraft after failing to agree a new deal on passenger charges. Michael O’Leary last week said its traffic at Shannon would decline to 400,000 this year from a peak of 1.9 million. Shannon handled 3.2 million passengers in 2008, but this is believed to have declined by 12 per cent last year as the effects of the recession and capacity cuts by airlines were felt.

Mr Mueller said Aer Lingus was committed to operating a transatlantic service from Shannon, despite having scaled back the service this winter.

“We band-aided Shannon for this winter schedule with a funny construction,” Mr Mueller said in reference to the fact that flights to New York operate as a stopover from Dublin. The problem with Shannon is that we make good money in summer but lose it all in winter, and more than that.”

Mr Mueller said he was conscious of Shannon’s role in the local economy and that “connectivity for the region is paramount to revitalise the thing”.

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