Flights to Aran Islands to continue as agreement reached

Owner of Aer Arann Islands had offered to sell it to local communities for sum of €1

Minister of State Sean Kyne said he was pleased his department had reached an agreement setting out a plan for future of the service to the Aran Islands

Minister of State Sean Kyne said he was pleased his department had reached an agreement setting out a plan for future of the service to the Aran Islands

 

Flights to the Aran Islands will continue as scheduled in the short term after an agreement was reached between the Department of the Gaeltacht and the Islands and Aer Arann Islands.

The agreement sets out a process under which negotiations for the State to buy Connemara Airport can begin.

The contract under which the airport is made available for the provision of the air service has been extended until September 2021 while Aer Arann Islands has agreed to continue providing the service until December 20th.

The department will immediately issue a tender for an interim service, under a contract which will operate from December 21st until September 30th next year with a further tender process to award a four-year contract ongoing while the short-term contract is in place.

Making the announcement, Minister of State Sean Kyne said he was pleased his department had reached an agreement setting out a plan for future of the service.

Earlier this week, the owner of Aer Arann Islands had offered to sell the airline for €1 to the Aran Island communities amid an ongoing dispute with the department.

The airline, and its principal shareholder Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, employs 40 staff and has been in a protracted dispute over its Public Services Obligation (PSO) contract with the department.

The PSO, worth €800,000 annually, requires the airline to provide 3,500 flights each year to Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr on a fixed schedule.

Galway Aviations Services Ltd, trading as Aer Arann Islands, has claimed the terms of the contract, which is almost two years through its four-year term, are too onerous. The airline says it faces deductions from allowances if it provides extra flights or departs from schedule.

The 2017-2020 contract covers about 3,500 annual flights between the three Aran Islands and the Connemara airport at Indreabhán.The service has carried 42,000 people annually at peak, but this figure has fallen to just over 30,000 under the latest PSO terms.

During high season in the summer, the airline provides up to 30 flights a day for tourists, but that falls to the bare minimum during the winter when the service is used primarily by islanders.

The airline has claimed the current PSO contract means it is running at a loss and cannot continue as a viable operation.

Mr Ó Ceidigh announced earlier this year he cannot run the airline after December 6th, due to restrictions on the contract which is due to run until 2020. The number of passengers has fallen from more than 40,000 at peak service to 30,000 last year.