In recent weeks, I took the opportunity to put forward my vision for the future of Shannon Airport in a detailed and widely consulted submission to Booz and Company. The independent experts have been appointed by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar to carry out a study of options for future ownership and operation of Cork and Shannon Airports.
As part of my detailed submission, I consulted widely with interested parties including workers, aviation experts, business and tourist interests. I also held two public meetings, in both Ennis and Shannon, and invited members of the public to make their feelings, concerns and insights known.
In the past Shannon Airport has performed best when it has been in charge of its own affairs, with strong Government support. My submission envisages a re-born Shannon Airport, once again pioneering and vibrant, to the benefit of the whole of the Mid-West region.
Central to this is a new governance model at Shannon, which would see a new entity controlling affairs at the airport, with State support. It is my belief that state ownership is critical to the well being of Shannon Airport, but that the centralised form of ownership emanating from Dublin is not in the best interest of Shannon. I also see a possible way forward for giving greater ownership to local authorities. This could result in a strong and meaningful input from the local community in this ownership model, which would give back direction for the airport to those who depend most on a revitalised airport.
For many years now, Shannon Airport has not had a coherent or detailed mission statement. No business can operate without a clearly defined set of aims and objectives and I believe it is crucial we get this right at Shannon. This mission statement must take account of Shannon as a catalyst for the development of the region and area, retain connectivity with North America and Europe and benefit from the transport advantages of Shannon as an airport.
The current management structure at Shannon is failing the airport and the region as a whole. This needs to be radically overhauled. I envisage a new Board of Directors, headed-up by a new dynamic Chairperson. Their task would be to implement and draw up a comprehensive business plan, this may well need Government financial support to be realised in the short term, and sustainable in the longer term.
I also envisage a new management team in place, tasked with implementing the business plan. This management team should have the necessary experience and professional skills to guide the airport from its current state into commercial viability.
Finally, I have laid out my views on the financing of Shannon and how its current debt and future capital spending must be examined carefully. I believe debt must be ring fenced to give Shannon a chance to grow and expand. This is in the long term interest of the Irish taxpayer. Added to this must be realistic yet attainable growth targets, which should hark back to the days when Shannon’s management had real vision and ambition.
The work I have carried out on Shannon in recent months and years has allowed me gain a unique insight into the needs and challenges which exist at the Airport. My detailed submission is as a result of many months consultation with everyone from airlines, to local business owners and members of the public. I believe that my proposals are a blueprint for a rejuvenated, vibrant and profitable Shannon Airport to emerge which will benefit the Mid West Region as a whole.