Stobart Air: Industry warns it could take years for routes to return

Government more hopeful that another airline will take up Kerry, Donegal routes

Stobart Air, which operated Aer Lingus regional routes, announced it was ceasing trade. File photograph

Stobart Air, which operated Aer Lingus regional routes, announced it was ceasing trade. File photograph

 

Confidence has been expressed in Government circles that a replacement carrier to service routes from Donegal and Kerry to Dublin following the collapse of Stobart Air will be found quickly.

However a leading Irish aviation figure has warned that it could be years before planes carry passengers from the two regional airports to the capital again.

The airline announced on Saturday morning it has ceased trading and was in the process of appointing a liquidator.

Aer Lingus Regional had been operated by Stobart Air under a franchise agreement and the larger airline quickly confirmed it would provide services for some passengers stranded as a result of the collapse.

However the cover is only for the short term, and concern is mounting for longer-term air connectivity across Ireland.

Stobart Air flew passengers from regional airports in Britain, including Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester, to the Republic, for Aer Lingus, which sold the tickets for the flights, collected the revenue and paid its partner a fee.

Some of its services fed passengers to Aer Lingus’s transatlantic flights from Dublin and were seen as important to the bigger carrier’s long-haul business.

Of the 12 routes immediately affected by Stobart Air’s decision to cease trading, Aer Lingus will operate five routes, and for at least the next week BA CityFlyer will operate two. There are no plans to service the two regional routes from Kerry and Donegal to Dublin.

“I can assure you, regional connectivity is really important to this Government,” the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio he pointed out that “significant amounts of tax-payer money” had been put into subsidising the two routes “to ensure there is regional connectivity by air”.

He declined to say if the subsidy for the routes would be increased saying it was a matter for Government and for the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan.

Mr Coveney suggested there was “no shortage of planes and carriers” who might take up the routes and insisted that “the Government will be working hard to replace those routes.”

However Irish aviation pioneer Pádraig Ó Céidigh was more downbeat about the future prospects for the two routes and for Irish aviation more widely.

Stobart Air grew out of the Aer Arann regional service founded by Mr Ó Céidigh and he said he was “not surprised but very saddened by the news” and suggested that it would not be easy “to secure a new buyer in the current aviation climate”.

“It is going to be very difficult. I do not agree there are a whole host of airlines out there waiting to go and do this,” he said. “It will take time. It is not an overnight situation, of pressing a button for an airline to go and do this. This could take a year or two or even more to settle down.”

He said the aviation industry was “absolutely on its knees and more so in Ireland than in any other country.

He said he did not believe Aer Lingus would be able to cover the two routes because of a shortage of aircraft an because there “is not a great margin” on Public Service Obligation routes.

He concluded by saying aviation had gone back between 30 and 40 years and expressed fears that air fares would likely “increase and increase significantly”. He said there would also be less flights and less choice.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan described the announcement is “concerning news” for the affected workers and for regional connectivity and he said his department would be “engaging with all stakeholders… to restore connectivity”.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton said the restoration of regional connectivity is of “critical importance” and would be prioritised by the Government in the coming days.