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Operators vow to fight on but absence of commercial airline leaves a massive hole

By Dara Bradley, Connacht Tribune.

Aer Arann delivered a hammer blow to beleaguered Galway Airport yesterday when the airline announced it was withdrawing its services from Carnmore, effectively closing the commercial element of the facility and putting scores of jobs at risk.

Aer Arann, the sole commercial airline operating from Galway Airport, will cease its flights between Galway and London Southend, London Luton, Edinburgh, Manchester and Waterford from November 1.

The company said these five routes were all making a loss in winter – it cited a reduction in passenger numbers and fare revenues for the decision to desert the county from which it started way back in 1970. Galway Chamber, the airport’s majority shareholder, blamed the slump in confidence and bookings on government’s withdrawal of funding, and Aer Arann’s examinership process, which it only emerged from last November.

Aer Arann said it is committed to re-launching services from Galway for the summer schedule which starts in April; and the Chamber said it is determined to fight on.

Chamber CEO Michael Coyle said he was “optimistic” Aer Arann will return next summer; and he said the airport would now actively seek to attract alternative airlines but he stressed government must reverse its decision to withdraw Operational Subvention funding from next year.

A statement from the airport’s board said it deeply regretted Aer Arann’s decision which it said was ‘a direct result of the challenging economic environment we are all operating in’.

But the board added it was ‘committed to the continued operation of the airport and the future development of air services for Galway and the region’.

“Galway Airport will remain open for business but at a lower category of operation in the winter season,” the statement concluded.

The future of the 62 workers employed directly by Galway Airport now looks bleak. Staff were briefed on Wednesday and the Chamber said there would be job losses but the number is not yet known. Trade union SIPTU is engaging with airport management.

The 35 Aer Arann Galway-based flight deck and cabin crew staff will be offered the opportunity to move to bases in Shannon, Cork, Dublin and Waterford. The other 30-odd Aer Arann hangar facility and engineering staff at Galway are not impacted by the decision to suspend services, and they will continue to service its fleet of 13 planes in Carnmore, the company said.

Some airport staff such as air traffic control will be retained to facilitate this and the helicopter facility at Galway Airport.

Aer Arann’s Chief Executive Paul Schütz said the announcement was necessary due to a number of factors that are outside the control of the airline. He added: “A number of issues have combined to bring about this decision but the biggest driver is the economy which has led to fewer people travelling and a significant reduction in fare revenues which is being experienced by regional airlines all over Europe

“The emphasis now must be on sustainable services and by suspending loss-making services for the winter season both Galway Airport and Aer Arann Regional are doing what is best for both businesses at this time and we can work together on the potential for a resumption of services in 2012.”

Aer Arann said it intends to work with Galway Airport with the intention that a strategy be put in place for the re-launch of services from Galway at the beginning of the summer season in April, as well as examining the potential for a number of routes from Galway to France and UK.

This article appeared in the Connacht Tribune edition of October 14, 2011.