Furore over airport decision
Furore over airport decision

A decision by Aer Lingus to set up a new base in Belfast at the expense of existing services at Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland has created an escalating controversy which could see the airline completely grounded next week - by its own pilots.

The management at Aer Lingus has been broadly criticised for switching the airline’s services to link Belfast with Heathrow, London’s lynchpin airport, but strongly praised by northern unionists.

Scores of valuable jobs in Limerick and Clare will be cut because of the switch, while Aer Lingus pilots have also criticised quiet plans to make cut-backs in staff working conditions in the transition.

Impact, which represents cabin crew, said that staff at Shannon found out about the change through the media.

Union spokeswoman Christina Carney said it was “appalling that staff who stuck with Aer Lingus through the very worst times and helped turn the company around should be treated like this”.

The decision, described as “commercial” by the airline, would not have been possible before last year’s controversial privatisation. However, the Dublin government retains 25% ownership of the group and could still bring pressure to block or modify the plan.

Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation regions director Pat Delaney said many companies in the mid-west had already made “substantial investments due to the availability of a Heathrow connection to Europe and beyond”.

“Many companies based in the region trade internationally and use the Heathrow link for product distribution and personnel,” he said.

“This decision is a massive blow to those companies and ultimately to the region.”

Over a hundred Fianna Fail Ministers, parliamentarians and councillors have joined the calls on their own leader, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, for a reversal of the Aer Lingus decision. The call was made at a meeting in Shannon on Wednesday night.

Sinn Féin’s Limerick representative Maurice Quinlivan said Shannon Airport was “vital” to the economy of the entire mid-west region and the whole of the West of Ireland.

“The importance of the Heathrow route to local business and tourism should not be underestimated. Simply put, this route is of vital importance to Limerick’s economy.

“It is a key route necessary for attracting and maintaining investment, for developing and sustaining tourism and is essential for the maintenance of family connections with the many Irish emigrants from this area who live in the West London catchment area.

Mr Quinlivan said he was concerned that this could be the start of the total withdrawal of Aer Lingus from Shannon.

“I would urge Aer Lingus even at this late stage to reconsider the plan to discontinue this very busy, popular, necessary and profitable route and to maintain this vital service,” he said.

Nearly 500 pilots at Aer Lingus are to stage a 48-hour strike next week in protest at what they said were moves by the airline to employ pilots at its new base in Belfast on less favourable terms and conditions than those applying to staff in Dublin.

In a strong reaction, Aer Lingus said it was “angry and disappointed that pilots would choose to attack customers in an act of self-centred brinkmanship”.

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