The Irish Times view on regional air connections: a lifeline, not a luxury

The collapse of Stobart Air was shocking and sudden but it was not surprising

Stobart Air had carved itself out a profitable niche by looking after the regional routes operated under the Aer Lingus flag. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Stobart Air had carved itself out a profitable niche by looking after the regional routes operated under the Aer Lingus flag. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

While the collapse of Stobart Air was shocking and sudden it was not surprising given the scale of the crisis that has hit the aviation sector as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Stobart Air had carved itself out a niche by looking after the regional routes under the Aer Lingus flag but starting in March 2020, 94 per cent of its business disappeared as a result of tough pandemic restrictions. While the speed of the vaccine rollout and the gradual unlocking of Ireland coupled with the potential re-opening of international borders next month are grounds for optimism, the grim reality is that airlines, big and small, will feel the pain of the pandemic for years into the future. As it stands, over 4,000 jobs in what was once a hugely profitable sector of the Irish economy have disappeared thanks to Covid-19. Many are gone for good.

Government action is now urgently required to support the economies of Ireland’s southwest and northern regions. Suggestions from the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan that regional flights to Donegal and Kerry could resume by the middle of July are welcome, not least because it has been suggested within the aviation sector that it could be years before regular services on the routes could be reinstated.

Both routes are subsidised by the State under Public Service Obligation (PSO) contracts and under EU rules, the Government can make arrangements to continue axed services for seven months before renegotiating longer PSO contracts. Airlines interested in taking over the two routes are to be approached next week before a judgment call is made on the most suitable operators.

That call must be made without delay. It is vital that connectivity to the two regions is restored. Air travel between Kerry and Donegal is not a luxury but a lifeline that will help the two regions continue to attract investment and allow people living there to go about their business at home and abroad without having to face arduous journeys that would never be countenanced by people living in the capital.

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