Government starts assessing Aran Islands air service tenders
Department exploring interim options as current contract expires in 10 days
An Aer Arann Islands plane at Inverin airport, Co Galway. Photograph: Dan Griffin
The Department of the Gaeltacht has started assessing tenders for the provision of an air service to the Aran Islands.
The deadline for receipt of tenders was pushed back a number of times this year but finally expired on Friday.
Aer Arann Islands has operated the service for more than 40 years but the current contract for provision of an air service for the islands will cease on September 30th, raising question as to what form of service will be offered after that date.
Islanders began a series of protests 12 months ago when the Government announced a helicopter firm operating out of Carnmore, Co Galway, was its preferred tendeerer for the State contract.
The residents said the airport in Carnmore was inappropriate because it is 52km from the Connemara ferry terminal at Ros a’Mhil, compared to the 8km distance of Inverin airport, from which Aer Arann Islands operates the plane service.
If the helicopter was cancelled because of bad weather it would mean passengers would have to travel across Galway city to catch the ferry, the islanders said.
The tendering process was eventually cancelled amid the controversy and doubts over the long term availability of the airport in Carnmore.
In April the Government re-advertised the tender, with a June deadline, stating that the new service will operate between the islands and Aerfort na Mine in Inverin. The airport is owned by Aer Arann Islands.
In July, Minister for the Gaeltacht Seán Kyne said negotiations between Aer Arann Islands and the Government over the new contract were deadlocked. The deadline for concluding talk on the €3.6 million contract had been extended to the middle of that month.
The impasse between the owners of Aerfort na Mine and the Department saw the deadline further extended to August 31st and subsequently extended to September 16th.
On Tuesday it was reported that Mr Kyne and officials from his department are liaising with the Attorney General about providing an interim air service to the islands while tenders are being assessed.
The contract for air services to the Aran Islands is awarded under a public-service obligation (PSO) system implemented by European Union member states which applies where a transport system is recognised as being “socially necessary” but is “unable to generate enough revenue to make it economically viable”.