Aran air impasse remains unresolved ahead of deadline

Na Minna airport

The State plans to acquire Na Minna Airport in Indreabhán to ensure long-term air connectivity from the mainland to and from the Aran Islands – but there was still no breakthrough this week in the impasse between Aer Arann and Roinn na Gaeltachta over the airline’s threat to withdraw its services to the islands as of December 6.

Islanders had expected a satisfactory outcome this week but the legal teams of both sides in the negotiations remain deadlocked.

The SOS Committee for the Aran Islands Air Service met with Minister Seán Kyne and his officials in Na Forbacha on Monday, and they are due to meet again early next week.

The airline, controlled by Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, will withdraw its four-years PSO contract that it signed two years ago unless there is a breakthrough in talks. An emergency service is being put in place, at the behest of islanders, that will result in flights operating out of Shannon Airport.

Minister Kyne, in a statement to the Connacht Tribune, said: “There is ongoing engagement between the legal team of Roinn na Gaeltachta and that of Aer Arann. The Roinn has expressed a wish to purchase Na Minna Airport and are happy to draw up the heads of an agreement to that effect. I understand that this is under consideration by the owners of Na Minne.

“My main concern is that there is a service to the main land for the Island communities. As it stands there is no available airport or air strip in Galway. Therefore, my officials have engaged with Shannon Airport with a view to that airport facilitating a service on a temporary basis from December 7 onwards. Consultants have been appointed to prepare contracts for such a temporary scheme. We continue to work to find a resolution to this issue and to ensure that there is a service for the islands.”

The plans to purchase Na Minna can also have a knock-on beneficial effect on two airstrips at Cleggan and Inishbofin which have lain idle since they were developed at a cost of €10 million eight years ago.

They have been the subject of controversy from the start – and even though they have yet to host flights, it is estimated that another million has been spent on their maintenance since then.

However, Galway West TD Eamon O Cuiv is now asking the Minister for Transport and the Minister for the Gaeltacht to fund an air service from Na Minna that would serve not only Inishbofin but also the Aran Islands and Cleggan airstrips. Deputy O Cuiv told The Connacht Tribune that improved transport to the islands was crucial to keep them alive.

The airstrip on ‘Bofin is used by the Sikorsky helicopter for emergencies – but not for the purpose for which they were intended.

However the airstrips cannot be brought into use until they boast terminal buildings and, while planning permission was granted for this purpose back in 2011, there has been no progress on these projects in the meantime.

It is estimated that it would take another €1 million to provide the airport terminals at the two locations which the Government is so far not willing to commit to.

A number of years ago, consultants were engaged to design the terminal buildings at both Cleggan and Inishbofin but they could not say when work would begin.

At the time, the Government said that the terminals would be ‘completed shortly’ but no work was undertaken. In fact the areas surrounding the two airstrips have become overgrown with weeds and ragwort.

It was also revealed that there were around 60 private small plane pilots across Ireland and Britain who would readily fly into Inishbofin if the airstrip was completed.