Even though the end of the Covid-19 crisis could be in sight, air travel still faces a struggle to return to normal that could drag on for years. So this does not seem the best time to begin redrawing aviation policy.
Yet the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks is recommending that, or something close to it, in a report produced following two months of hearings into the pandemic's impact on aviation.
One of its recommendations is that the Government re-establish a State airport authority to take control of Cork, Dublin and Shannon, all of which would operate separately under the new entity’s umbrella, like CIÉ’s bus and rail companies.
In 2013 Shannon was separated from the other two – which are under the charge of DAA – on the basis that it would do better as an independent entity. The midwestern airport is now part of Shannon Group, which combines that business with commercial property and heritage management.
Trade unions Siptu, Fórsa and Connect called for Shannon to be returned to the charge of DAA when they appeared before the committee last month. The report, Issues Affecting the Aviation Industry, does not quite recommend this, but does call for the three State airports to be re-merged, effectively ending Shannon’s current independent status.
This is surprising given the support voiced for Shannon by several committee members, who mainly hail from the airport's hinterland. These included chairman Kieran O'Donnell, a Limerick TD; two Clare TDs, Cathal Crowe and Joe Carey; and, from the same county, Senator Timmy Dooley. Tipperary TD Michael Lowry also rowed in.
Their main concern was Dublin Airport’s dominance of the Irish market. The report suggests that this could be reinforced as we emerge from the crisis, but does not say how the proposed re-merger of the three gateways addresses this.
It is probably academic. Eamon Ryan, Minister for Transport, signalled in September that the Government had no plans for such a move. Nevertheless, an Oireachtas committee, with vocal local representation, has put Shannon's independence back on the agenda.