Airport boss lets fly at his ministerial masters

Shannon Airport chief unhappy at the advantage his regional rivals enjoy in getting State funding

Shannon Airport. The airport will have to fork out €10m for a baggage-screening upgrade that will give it no competitive advantage. Photograph: Arthur Ellis/Press22

Shannon Airport. The airport will have to fork out €10m for a baggage-screening upgrade that will give it no competitive advantage. Photograph: Arthur Ellis/Press22

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It’s rare to see the chief executive of a State-owned company take on his ministerial masters. On Monday, Shannon Airport boss Matthew Thomas complained that the Government’s policy of not helping it out with expensive infrastructure projects was “counter-intuitive”.

His ire stems from the fact that his regional airport rivals in the Republic will receive State funding for costly baggage-screening upgrades but his airport will not, purely because it is owned by the State. The new baggage measures have been prompted by the EU.

As a result Shannon will have to fork out €10 million for a scheme that will give it no competitive advantage. Cork and Dublin airports, which are both managed by State-owned DAA, are similarly affected.

That’s certainly a difficult pill to swallow for Shannon considering it believes that the objectives of the Government’s Project 2040 can only be met if it is properly developed.

Thomas also took issue with the fact that Shannon, and, by extension, the citizens of the west, will not have any air access to an EU hub post-Brexit.

Although Shannon will continue to offer flights to Heathrow in London, access to one of Frankfurt, Amsterdam Schiphol, or Paris Charles De Gaulle will be necessary, Thomas believes, to boost regional access.

It’s worth noting that Kerry has direct access to Dublin airport, which is an international hub located in the EU, but Thomas is more concerned with mainland European access for the west as a whole.

If Shannon were to help promote a new route it would have to be sure it could make money before a three-year timeline was up to avoid breaching EU state-aid rules. It’s a tricky balancing act.

The Department of Transport might be able to help Shannon on this front, although criticising Government policy might not be the best way to win its support.

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