Minister to meet Aran islanders over contract decision

Concern over decision to award State’s air service contract to a Galway city helicopter

Aer Arann Islands owner Pádraig Ó Céidigh said he was ‘devastated’ at the decision and said it represented a blow to the islands. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Aer Arann Islands owner Pádraig Ó Céidigh said he was ‘devastated’ at the decision and said it represented a blow to the islands. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

The Minister of State for the Gaeltacht, Joe McHugh, has agreed to meet an Aran Islands delegation next Tuesday over his decision to award the State’s air service contract for the three islands to a Galway city helicopter company.

Islanders have expressed serious concern over the use of a different mainland airport for the service and also at a reduction in the frequency of flights to the three Aran islands.

Some 40 jobs are expected to be lost at Aer Arann Islands airline, which has provided the link for 45 years.

Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh called on the Minister to explain why the contract was awarded to Executive Helicopters.

“We should be told who was on the evaluation panel and what experience they have in running an air service to offshore islands,” Mr Ó Clochartaigh said.

Mr McHugh said on Wednesday that Executive Helicopters was selected as the “preferred tenderer” to provide the air service contract for the next four years.

The existing fixed-wing air service is run by Aer Arann Islands from Inverin airport, some 8kms from the ferry port of Rossaveal. It provides up to three return flights daily to Inis Mór and two return flights to the others under a public service obligation contract, with more scheduled flights on demand.

The Minister’s department said the new contract details had not yet been completed, but there would be a “minimum of two return flights daily” by helicopter from Galway airport at Carnmore.

Concern has been raised over the 52kms distance between Rossaveal and Carnmore airports, a one-hour road journey, reducing the option to use the ferry if flights are cancelled due to weather.

Aer Arann Islands owner Pádraig Ó Céidigh said he was “devastated” at the decision and said it represented the “single biggest blow” to the islands in their recent history.

Tarlach de Blacam of Inis Meáin Knitting Company said the decision represented “death by a thousand cuts” for the economy of the Aran Islands.