Aer Lingus to fly some services hit by Stobart closure

Aer Lingus said its teams have been working to provide alternative services following the announcement

It has also said it is ready to operate the Public Service Obligation air route between Dublin and Kerry, subject to an appropriate agreement being put in place with the State.

At the weekend Stobart Air’s board said it was putting the company into liquidation.

Stobart Air had run the Aer Lingus Regional franchise and was due to continue doing so until the end of next year.

Aer Lingus said its teams have been working to provide alternative services following the announcement.

The routes Aer Lingus has said it will continue to operate until 19 July are Dublin / Edinburgh, Dublin / Manchester, Belfast City / Manchester, Belfast City / Birmingham and Belfast City / Edinburgh.

BA City Flyer is to continue operating two more routes until the end of this week, but it is unclear what will happen to them after that.

“The provision of this replacement schedule has ensured that all impacted customers due to travel in the next week have been offered alternative travel arrangements,” Aer Lingus said in a statement.

The airline said it is continuing to work on alternative options for future flights.

Three more routes had been operated by Stobart Air for Aer Lingus, but the future of those remains uncertain.

In terms of the Dublin-Kerry route, it is understood that Aer Lingus has joined three or four other carriers who have also signalled an interest in operating the route, including Estonia’s airline Nordica.

Aer Lingus also said it is exploring options around the possibility of being able to run the PSO route between Dublin and Donegal.

One of the challenges it has is that Aer Lingus’ existing fleet of aircraft are too large for the runway at Carrickfinn.

The Department of Transport said it is actively considering all options, taking legal advice and working to ensure a replacement service is in place on the routes as quickly as possible.

Fine Gael TD for Kerry Brendan Griffin, meanwhile, said that the Government’s decision to introduce a rapid procurement process to replace the Stobart airline routes out of Kerry and Donegal airports offers some hope that regional connectivity will be retained.

Mr Griffin said the provision to replace the government-funded PSO routes which operate between Kerry, Dublin and Donegal for a seven-month period offers hope that a new carrier will come onboard.

He said that the decision of Stobart air to cease trading is a major blow to the Kerry airport, but that there is a solution to be put in place.

He said there is an indication that Emerald Airline may move into the market by autumn and that interest from other airlines is “good news for Irish aviation”.

He said there is an “inevitability’ in relation to job losses in the economy as a result of the pandemic.

He defended the Government record on aviation spending, saying it has given €300m in supports for aviation since the start of the pandemic, including a €3.5m annual subsidy for Kerry airport which has helped to keep it viable.

He said that certainty on re-opening is needed and that he will be pushing this week to introduce more rapid antigen testing at airports and elsewhere.

ITAA ‘not surprised’ by closure of Stobart Air

Pat Dawson CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association

Pat Dawson CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association has said he was “not surprised” by the weekend closure of Stobart Air.

Speaking on Drivetime, Mr Dawson said “the regional airports are always the first to suffer”.

However, he said the regional services are “vital” for the communities near to regional airports.

“If you take Donegal or Kerry for example, if you have to get to Dublin airport the train is expensive unless you have a free card – it could be €65 – €70,” he said.

‘Gap on the map’ after Stobart departure

The chief executive of Tourism Ireland said one of the most important aspects of the recovery of the tourism sector is connectivity, and established rural connectivity is one of the hardest parts of the game.

Niall Gibbons said it is very sad to see the demise of Stobart Air in Ireland and it leaves “a gap on the map” that will make it harder for the tourism sector to recover.

Speaking on Today with Damien O’Reilly, Mr Gibbons said the aviation picture is extremely difficult but did not agree that the Government has ignored the aviation sector.

Mr Gibbons pointed out the US domestic travel is very strong.

It is currently easier to sell a ticket from New York to San Francisco, than New York to Dublin, he said.

Similarily, he said because Germany had introduced the EU Digital Green Certificate it is easier to sell a ticket from Frankfurt to Malaga, than Frankfurt to Shannon.

He said that research shows that people have a pent up desire to travel and connect with friends and family, while people also want to travel to destinations that are closer to home.

Niall Gibbons said the domestic industry needs to get up and running, and the implementation of the EU Digital Green Certificate from the 19 July will be critical to saving the rest of the season.

He said that some counties are poised to do better than others this summer.

Sinn Fein’s spokesperson on transport said today that the Government needs to provide absolute clarity that the PSO routes will be reinstated as quickly as possible.

Darren O’Rourke said these services are vital in terms of strategic connectivity for tourism, hospitality and commerce, and also for the day-to-day lives of those who live in the regions.

He said the Government’s approach to the aviation has been “very hands off” and has, in his opinion, contributed to the difficulties in the Irish context.

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Mr O’Rourke said there is a shared objective across the political landscape to ensure a balanced regional development and there is a need to ensure this balance is maintained post Covid.

He pointed out that the PSO routes are in place to ensure this balance is maintained.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Shannon Chamber says the aviation sector has experienced phenomenal disruption since March 2020 and the Government cannot afford to fail to act.

Helen Downes said the Shannon Chamber has been working on a plan with the Irish Hotel Federation to look at a traffic recovery support scheme for the regional airport.

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She said the plan, which has the support of Limerick, Ennis and Galway chambers of commerce, has been presented to regional TDs and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughten.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Helen Downes said that multi-annual supports are needed to support those airlines that are making a decision to return to “some sort of normal in the near future.”

She added that the Government must make a decision on how much financial support it provides but said that airlines need to be confident they can reinstate routes back into airports.

This is not just about Shannon, she said, but every airport on the island.

“We are an island economy and we can’t afford not to put this as a priority and it needs to be done very quickly,” Ms Downes stated.

Ms Downes said a significant amount of jobs have been lost, directly and indirectly, as a result of the pandemic and warned that number will continue to rise until aircraft return to the skies.

Michael McNamara, Independent TD for Clare, said it seems that the rest of Europe has far less restrictions in hospitality sectors.

“We need to stop pillorying the aviation system”, he said.

Mr McNamara said very few recommendations of the aviation task force have been implemented by the government.

He said the Government opposed the EU Digital Green Certificate and will not introduce it until the last possible minute.

On the same programme, he said he would like to know what information the Chief Medical Officer has that would explain the difference in approach he is advocating, compared to other EU countries.

Union wants ‘viable plan’ to protect industry

Ashley Connolly, who leads the Fórsa union’s Services and Enterprise Division, has called for real engagement to ensure viable plans are produced that protect aviation and the wider industries that rely on it.

She told RTÉ’s Six One News the plans announced so far are temporary in nature and do not underpin the aviation sector.

She said there has been a significant impact not only on families of workers and their wider communities but also on local businesses.

Ms Connolly warned that “without real action, not only will internal connectivity be at risk but also international connectivity”.

She said that almost a year since the Department of Transport published its aviation taskforce report, some of its recommendations have yet to be implemented.

Aviation sector will likely take years to recover

Joe Gill, Director of Corporate Broking with Goodbody, said air travel was more important to the Irish economy that the Suez Canal is to world trade.

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He said the Government and the civil service had to ‘think long and hard’ about the future strategic direction for aviation here.

He pointed out that the main airlines here had taken commercial decisions to take traffic away from Ireland because of their own pressure points.

“Aer Lingus is closing its Shannon base, it’s downsizing its base in Cork and taken aircraft into Manchester from Dublin. Ryanair have taken aircraft out of Ireland to other European bases. That’s all had a detrimental effect on the economy,” Joe Gill pointed out.

He said he believed the aviation sector would take years to return to their prior level of services.

However, he was optimistic that air fares may not rise dramatically in the years ahead because airlines will be keen to get travel back up and running.

Donegal Airport staff remain ‘optimistic’

The chairman of Donegal Airport Steve Ó Cúláin has said that airport staff remain “optimistic” that government officials can get an airline within weeks to restore regional flights that ceased with the demise of Stobart airline.

Mr Ó Cúláin told the News at One programme that Donegal airport cannot afford a “long and protracted process” that would take months, as the airport would be at risk of closure.

He said that the officials at the Department of Transport are working to put in place an accelerated process to restore publically subsidised routes between Donegal, Kerry and Dublin airports.

Mr Ó Cúláin said that the PSO contract in place has six months to run, and he is hopeful the department can find a way to get an operator to take over as soon as possible.

The contract provides a subvention to airlines on the Dublin-Donegal-Kerry route so as to maintain regional connectivity.

He said the airport is a vital link and piece of infrastructure in the county and it is essential that connectivity is restored as soon as possible.

Mr Ó Cúláin said the airport is important to both attract and retain foreign direct investment, for the local population to access vital medical services and for tourism.

There are currently no flights from the airport, with Stobart’s twice daily service to Dublin gone.

There are plans to return links to Glasgow in July.

He said there are 30 people employed at the airport and that staff are doing everything in their power to get flights restored as soon as possible.

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