Some things I've learned....

(1) An Engineer can do with 10 cent what a fool can do with a Euro.

(2) "Puff" - unimportant; insignificant; unworthy of study by engineering students; waste of time

(3) It's better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you're stupid than to open it and prove them right!

(4) Blockwork people and concrete people can never work on the same site... Apparently they don't like each other....

(5) It's official; I'm fantastic!

Monday 3 September 2007

The Shannon Debate

As many of you will know, "The Shannon Debate" is the hot topic on the Irish news front at the moment. As a Dubliner (or Paler as the "West" would say), I can't say I feel too strongly about this topic, but it's gotten to the point where there's a lot of whinging and moaning and I figured it was an appropriate time to address the issue and give my opinion on the matter.

THE FACTS:

1. Aer Lingus has cut its Shannon-Heathrow slot and moved it to Belfast.

2. The people in the West of Ireland are very pissed off!

3. People think the Government should intervene.

4. Shannon Airport is a disaster anyway.

So the basic story is that Aer Lingus has decided to cut its service to Heathrow from Shannon and the people of the region feel that is a disaster for the West of Ireland. RTE.ie are running a poll, and so far (when I last checked) the "Situation is over-exaggerated" option is winning out, and fact of the matter is, I agree.

First and foremost this is not (and never should have been) a Government Issue. Aer Lingus is a private company, yes the Government has a 25% stake in the airline, but guess what folks, you have to own at least 51% of any company to make the decisions, Government or not! The only reason they own 25% is to prevent Ryanair taking over Aer Lingus. Don't get me wrong now, I don't like Aer Lingus nor do I like Ryanair, but realisitcally I think they are well within their rights to end the Heathrow service. What annoys me most though here is that the people there must still think Heathrow is the centre of the world!! From what I've read and heard from people I know, Shannon is the most inconvenient place in Europe. All flights to Dublin or the UK from the USA have to stop there for an hour, but apparently new laws will eventually make this stopover unnecessary.

One has to remember that the Aer Lingus decision is based on any decision a business has to make and base it on commercial interests over sentimentality. Thanks to sliabh.net, I was able to pick up some interesting information regarding the debate. In a supposed unbiased interview on RTE, the interviewer implied that Aer Lingus is supposed to act more like the Department of Social Welfare and prop up the local economy in the area like some charity. Wake up people, commercial bodies have no such duty. One person on TV I think it was, could've been radio, as the TV and radio were on simultaneously, stated: "It's the West against the Pale". This somehow implies that the whole debate is a regional and social dog fight mixed with Dublin, and not what it truly is which is a very legitimate corporate decision.

Not having used Shannon myself, I wouldn't be able to comment on the quality of the Airport without having done some research. From several sources, the conclusion can be drawn that Shannon is a mess. One website suggested the airport "might as well be in Southern Italy the way it's run". Without being born before Shannon was built and living through its progression as an Airport I had to look deeper and during the research I learned that Shannon itself has been protected by local politicans for years, pushing forward the "forced stop-over" I mentioned earlier above all things. Another area which suggested bad management at Shannon was the "Fast-Pass self Check in system" installed by Aer Lingus. Dozens of these terminals were installed in Dublin, Cork and even JFK. What about Shannon? Only 2. Why? Local resistance in protest against a system which would make check-ins and overall service in the airport more efficient. Is it any wonder why Aer Lingus want to get the hell out of there???

People are protesting now. Just wait till the forced stop-over is lifted next year and all the big US airlines will pull out too. The EU is watching Governments that try to intervene in matters such as this and ours is no exception!

One comment during the research made an excellent point. Thanks "Kieran" whoever you may be. In his comment, he wanted to know how did the region let itself get so dependent on one service from one airline? Kieran points out that the region itself got into this mess, and only they can get themselves out of it. Good man Kieran!

Personally, I support Aer Lingus in this matter. Not that I was overly interested when I first heard the issue, but when I started to hear all the bull that started after it, I had far more sympathy for them than I had for people of the region.

Bottom line is this:- Aer Lingus are a company and made a commercial decision to leave. The Government has no say as it does not own the company, so you can't go crying to them. Given how bad service at Shannon is, is it really any surprise that Aer Lingus pulled out? Do they expect someone else to fill it up with a service so bad? The whole thing is blown out of proportion if you ask me. If a region has to depend on one service to keep its economy going then there is something wrong there, and no one but the region folk themselves can sort that out. One also has to wonder why we have Shannon airport that is so close to Cork? Cork being a far more interesting place to go ahead of Shannon anyway.

Is the end of Shannon nigh? If you ask me...yes. Not because of the Aer Lingus move, but more on reality. Next year, the EU will have the stop-over clause removed entirely rather than it being relaxed, which will have an obvious effect. The other big deal is the Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. With the capacity to handle more passengers the effect of this is also evident. Yes Shannon has its perks, being listed as a potential emergency landing zone for the NASA space shuttle, the testing grounds of the now unused Concorde aswell as technically being the only airport in Ireland to be able to accomodate an Airbus A380, but let's face it, the day will never come when Shannon will be supporting an A380 service anyway.

This blog may be of interest, as it seems to be written by a local resident, who feels so strongly over the matter that he has dedicated a blogspot to it: http://aerlingussnnlhr.blogspot.com/

I wonder when I'll be writing a "Time to Let It Go" blog about this one.....

~The Damo

4 comments:

Gary said...

Right... I'm a business user of Shannon airport, so forgive me if I have a bias. Lots of people are saying that London is reasonably well served from Shannon by Ryanair, but "London" is a big place, and Ryanair's main London airport (Stanstead) is actually half way to Scotland. The Gatwick link is a joke. One flight a day means no way to get in and out on the same day.

If you're going on your summer holidays, and have all day (an hour to get into the city centre, and another 30 minutes to get the tube across town, and then another 30 minutes to get out to Heathrow, at a cost of at least £40 in train fares) to get to Heathrow, then that's fine, for the rest of us, it's 4 hours that we'd rather spend at home with the family.

Right now I can get the morning flight into Heathrow and be in town by 11am. I can do nearly a full days work and be back out on the 7:30pm flight. Because Heathrow is such a major airport, industry has grown up around it. A lot of technology companies (like *Dell* in Bracknell) are on the M4 corridor within a half hour of Heathrow, but outside London. Visiting these guys via Heathrow means I get to eat dinner with my kids. If I have to go via Stanstead I need an extra 2 hours in each direction on the M25. It requires getting up before dawn and not getting home until after 10pm. My other option is a 2 hour drive to Cork to fly out of there, or a 3.5 hour drive to Dublin.....

I'm in London at least a couple of times a month. If I lose a 1/2 day on each trip I lose more than two weeks a year sitting on commuter trains, rental cars and taxis in and around London. I'm just one person, but there are large companies around here who's entire executive group are over and back to London at least as often as I am. This will cost them serious money. While they won't (I hope!) pull out of the region because of this, they'll certainly think of redistributing these higher paying jobs to other locations that are better connected to the real world.

Let's be honest, the Mid-West is a backwater. Property and pay rates here are cheaper than Dublin, but Poland (which is *very* well connected to Heathrow by the way) is cheaper still, so the region will turn into a wasteland without some positive discrimination. This is why there are several incentive plans, such as the NDP, to keep industry in the area. The lack of frequent direct links to the largest airport on the continent will lead to a net increase in the cost of doing international business out of the region. This is *A Bad Thing*. It's already expensive to operate out of Ireland. Making business people piss away half their day to get here won't make them think any better of us.

You're correct that it takes a 51% shareholding to directly influence company actions, but it doesn't need to be a single shareholder. Michael O'Leary (Ryanair), who owns 29% of Aer Lingus has already said that he's in favour of the retention of the service for his own reasons. 29% (Ryanair) + 25% (government) = 54% which is an overall majority. Their combined shareholding can make this issue go away in the morning, if Bertie wanted to.....

Anonymous said...

Hi,

You've come out quite strongly about the way Shannon airport is managed and I'm paraphrasing heres and that we shouldn't be blaming "palers" for our own incompetence.
Would it be a surprise to you to hear the Shannon airport is run by the Dublin Airport Authority which as you pointed out has enough to do what with building a new terminal and all and really don't have the resources to manage another airport.
You are quite right in stating that Aerlingus is a private company and can do what it likes and the government with its 25% shareholding does not have enough of a shareholding to push things through on their own. However I wouldn't let the government off the hook that lightly as they repeatedly stated 18 months ago that the reason they held on to the 25% was to protect the heathrow slots but then again why should we believe what the Government say they've lied to us so much in the past why should they start telling the truth now.
The Aerlingus routes from Shannon to Heathrow were profitable. 300k + passengers a year, one of Aerlingus's highest loading numbers (% of seats filled on a plane). They sacrificed this to move to Belfast with two other airlines on the same route. Apparently they can't even sell the tickets they have on special offer for the service. OF course we all know that the Heathrow slots are more valuable if they're leased (especially morning and evening slots) as evidenced by the fact that Aerlingus is already leasing slots to BMI and Continental. I don't believe Aerlingus cares if its new Belfast routes are successful, theirs always plan B. They've lots of Heathrow slots from Dublin and cork that they can experiment with anyway.
WE'll have to wait and see how cork plays out. When they are fully spun off and the amount of debt they have from the new terminal is finally known (more government broken promises), its supposed to be around €100m, we'll then see Cork becoming uncompetitive for Aerlingus due to increased charges and the slots will go else where. Now who else is building a really expensive terminal that will have to be paid for with Airline charges???
PS I'm from Limerick, and working for a hi tech company that flies people all over the world for business and that's just announced it's shedding 150 people.

Damien Kelly said...

Hi,

I thought Shannon got its own authority separate from Dublin..or is that on the way? I won't doubt you over what the Government said but like I said in the blog, I'm pretty sure the EU is preventing Governments from interfering in these type of affairs.

I appreciate the comment aswell, I left a message with Gary above and it helps me and other people not from the area to understand the situation better.

Cheers,
Damien

Gary said...

The SAA takeover still hasn't happened. Shannon airport is currently run by DAA, who's chief executive, Declan Collier, said on Today FM on Sunday that Shannon doesn't need the Heathrow link and he's looking for new links to Paris and Amsterdam as replacements (see http://www.limerickblogger.org/blog/?p=3938).