Irish regional carrier Aer Arann, which exclusively operates under the Aer Lingus Regional franchise brand, has announced the closure of all flight operations from Waterford Airport in the south of the Republic of Ireland. The airline says its flights to London Luton, London Southend and Manchester will end from January 6, 2013.
Aer Arann will continue to offer services to London Southend from Dublin Airport and to Manchester from Cork Airport and Shannon Airport. It says that following a root and branch evaluation of all routes it was clear that its Waterford routes were not performing to a sustainable level, forcing it to make what it describes as a “regrettable but necessary”
“We are in the process of finalising a new business plan that will put the airline on a path for growth,” said Sean Brogan, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Aer Arann. “We have worked hard to overcome recent challenges, built a successful new partnership with Aer Lingus and grown our passenger numbers. If we are to protect and nurture these gains, we have got to concentrate resources on services that offer sustainable returns.”
The airport has naturally expressed its own disappointment in losing the services of Aer Lingus Regional from early next year after around ten years of service from Aer Arann. The Irish regional carrier first introduced flights from Waterford in June 2003 on the London Luton route, a link previously served by Euroceltic Airways and before that by Ryanair, before it adapted to its ultra low-cost business model. The link to Manchester began in May 2004, while London Southend joined the network in April last year.
Acknowledging Aer Arann’s well documented business problems, Graham Doyle, Chief Executive Officer, Waterford Airport said the facility has been working with the carrier over recent years as it attempted to overcome its challenges. “Regrettably, however, the airline has limited its capacity on the Waterford routes,” he said, noting this has been more due to issues elsewhere in their business rather than the market in the Southeast region with a population of almost 500,000. “Our understanding is that the decision arises from the sale of an aircraft by Aer Arann that necessitates them further cutting their route network,” he explained.
The Waterford Airport boss highlighted a particular frustration that Aer Arann reduced services on what he described as “the consistently high-performing” London Luton route in favour of developing at London Southend, whose owners are now also Aer Arann’s largest shareholder. “The Southend route performed poorly by comparison so that even a major marketing push by Waterford Airport and our partners could not fully mitigate this switch,” he explained.
“It is clearly a blow to have key UK routes withdrawn in these particular circumstances and is especially disappointing given that the Aer Lingus Regional brand was only introduced at Waterford as recently as late March of this year – just over seven months ago,” Doyle added.
Aer Arann’s Interim CEO, Sean Brogan says a return to the Waterford market should not be completely ruled out “if the business case can be justified,” but the airport’s senior management has already begun work seeking replacement air services. According to Graham Doyle “no effort is being spared” to replace these routes for 2013 and beyond.
“While it’s very early days, we are guardedly optimistic that the business case for operating between Waterford and these important destinations will be attractive to another airline, as proved to be the case when Flybe took up the Birmingham route after it was dropped by Aer Arann,” he said.
“We will also now liaise will all stakeholders including the Dept of Transport, Tourism & Sport as well as the State agencies concerned with inward investment and tourism - all of whom continue to work closely in support of the airport. The level of investment that there has been in tourism infrastructure in Waterford as well as the planned ‘Medieval Mile’ project in Kilkenny make it even more vital that we maintain and build on regular passenger services from our nearest neighbour and biggest trading partner,” he added.