Replacing Aer Arann air service a ‘death knell’ for island

After 44 years every resident seems to have a good story about Aer Arann Islands

Aran Islanders came to the mainland to protest about the possible loss of their air service supplied by Aer Arann for 45 years. It is proposed that a helicopter service replace it. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

“That’s where you get weighed,” says the woman at the desk at Aerfort na Minne, pointing to a scales on the floor. “It tells us where we have to put you on the plane. Down the back or up the front.”

The Aer Arann Islands aircraft are small, but the residents of Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr have been unrelenting in their campaign to save them.

That campaign took a blow last week when Minister for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh said Executive Helicopters, based in east Galway, was the “preferred tenderer” for the State’s public service obligation contract to provide flights for the Aran Islands.

Vital

Total exchequer support for the Aran Islands air service has grown from about €800,000 in 2003 to €1.9 million in 2013, according to a 2014 review of the service. Passenger numbers amount to about 40,000 trips a year, divided roughly half and half between residents and tourists.

After passengers get weighed at Aerfort na Minne, which is located near Inverin, just across the water from the islands, they are led across the tarmac and into the plane.

“It gets out to the islands early in the morning so you can get a full day’s work done,” says Edward Kinnane, a Guinness employee who uses the service three times a month to visit the islands’ pubs. “It’s way handier than the boat.”

He’s booked on to the early flight to Inis Mór, which rattles into the air shortly after 8.30am and touches down on the island six minutes and 21 seconds later.

“It’s dead handy,” says a building contractor, as he steps off the eight-passenger aircraft. “I’d be loyal to them. They run a very good service.”

Loyalty to the airline, which employs about 40 people, is something the islanders have in abundance. It has served the islands for 44 years and every resident seems to have a story about how the staff went above and beyond to help them out of a fix.

Emergency

Islanders are strongly opposed to the proposed change: a helicopter service operated out of Galway Airport, on the other side of the county, in Carnmore.

They say if an Aer Arann Islands flight from Inverin is cancelled because of bad weather, they can drive the 8km to Ros a’Mhíl and get the ferry, but that won’t be possible from Carnmore, which is 52km away from the ferry terminal.

Step back

“If the plane service goes, it’s a real step back for the island,” says Caitríona Ní Bhuachalla, a primary school teacher.

“There aren’t enough qualified teachers from the island itself so there are a lot of teachers who are from the mainland and they have to travel in and out. I could see us not being able to get qualified teachers in years to come if the plane service isn’t there,” she says. “It’s a death knell for the island.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.