The Government must focus on restoring connectively at Shannon Airport and safeguarding strategic routes as rapid testing for air passengers comes into effect this week, a Clare TD has said.

Deputy Joe Carey was speaking ahead of the introduction of the EU’s ‘Traffic Light’ system at Shannon and Cork airports from this Thursday, which the local Fine Gael TD has campaigned extensively for in recent months.

Deputy Carey said: “I’m relieved we finally have lift off in terms of rapid testing at our airports and this will come into effect for passengers at Shannon Airport from Thursday.

“I have been calling on the Government to introduce the EU’s ‘Traffic Light’ system to replace the blanket restrictions that have strangled our airports for months. Rapid testing is vital to restore confidence in our aviation sector which has been decimated by Covid-19.”

Under the new ‘Traffic Light’ system, pre-departure tests for passengers flying out of Shannon will be available from this Thursday. The new Shannon drive-through Covid-19 testing centre will be located in Coach Park 2 at the airport. Irish healthcare company RocDoc will provide the private testing service to passenger, with test results reportedly available within a few hours.

Deputy Carey, who is chairperson of the all-party Shannon Airport Oireachtas Group, said the focus now must be on “restoring connectivity and getting planes back in the air”.

The Clarecastle-based TD added: “With the new testing regime in place, the Government must move now to underpin strategic routes at Shannon – starting with Heathrow.”

Deputy Carey said that, with Brexit looming, other European hubs such as Paris and Frankfurt “should also be explored”. He also called on Transport Minister Eamon Ryan to explore “vital strategic links” to North America, in destinations such as New York and Boston, by “funding airlines directly in a PSO (Public Service Obligations) type arrangement”.

The Clare TD said National Aviation Policy must be overhauled to address Dublin Airport’s monopoly “in the interest of balanced regional development”. He also called for a new chairperson for the Board of Shannon Group to be “identified and appointed” as soon as possible.

Deputy Carey added: “The board itself needs to be strengthened with competent interested people from the Clare and Limerick area. We can’t expect Dublin-based directors, irrespective of their competence, to appreciate the critical importance of our airport for the region.

“The Government also needs to provide a coherent plan for aviation to deal with the severe short term challenges, but we equally require a medium and long term strategy involving policy change that reflects Shannon Airport’s position as the economic driver of the Mid-West and Western Regions.”