Fianna Fail Senator Timmy Dooley has said that former Aer Lingus and British Airways/IAG CEO Willie Walsh’s response that it would be “madness” for Shannon Airport to establish its own airline is disrespectful to the airport, to its Chairman designate Pádraig Ó Céidigh and to the legacy of proven pioneers at the airport.
Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning Mr Walsh, who is CEO of the International Air Transport Association, said airports should focus on running airports and said it would be “madness” for Shannon Airport to establish its own airline.
The suggestion that Shannon Airport could run its own airline was mooted by Shannon Group chairman designate Pádraig Ó Céidigh at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications last week.
Mr Ó Céidigh said such a move was possible but a “huge, huge task”.
Willie Walsh said on RTÉ this morning however: “I hear lots of crazy ideas from politicians but that’s probably one of the most crazy ones I’ve heard,” said Mr Walsh when asked about the idea. Running airlines and running airports are two completely different things,” he said.
Responding to Mr Walsh’s dismissal of the suggestion Senator Dooley said that he would expect nothing else from Mr Walsh other than to dismiss anything that challenges conventional corporate thinking.
Senator Dooley commented, “The reality is that I would have expected Willie Walsh to say something like that. Willie Walsh is a corporate captain who wants everything centralised, uncomplicated and the likes of Shannon Airport and the needs of peripheral regions flies completely in the face of everything he stands for.
“We have seen the commitment to the Shannon region by the airlines he presided over, from Aer Lingus to British Airways and IAG. Today all we have is a reduced temporary Heathrow service until November and no promise of a return to transatlantic services next year. He is all about the shareholder value and never about the social benefit or the needs of those that live outside the large urban areas. He simply could not care less about that.”
Senator Dooley added: “His comments today are utterly disrespectful and condescending to the people who refused all those years ago to accept the type of conventional thinking that Willie Walsh brings to the table. They refused to listen to people who dismissed their ideas and ambition and look at what happened as a result.
“We got an airport here that has been a gateway and an economic driver for the West of Ireland since the 1940s; an airport that triggered the establishment of the world’s first free trade zone, Shannon Free Zone, which is to this day the largest cluster of US multinational companies in Ireland; an airport that was the birthplace of the global duty free phenomenon, effectively the birthplace of tourism in Ireland and so much besides.
“Shannon has always succeeded because it dared to try things that others wouldn’t contemplate. It refused to go with the flow and it was that type of thinking that made it the success it has been over the years and brought economic development to this part of the island of Ireland. It is that type of thinking and spirit that we need to summon and certainly we do not need to listen to the likes of Willie Walsh with his big-city corporate thinking.
“So, if anything, Willie Walsh’s comments are a call to action from all the people involved with Shannon to recapture that spirit of the underdog, to refuse to accept convention and to not be limited by others’ lack of ambition.
“If considering establishing an airline is part of that thinking, let’s explore it and if it doesn’t work out as a concept, so be it. But let’s not be deterred by the likes of Willie Walsh and not accept the disrespect he has shown to the great people who refused to accept ‘no’ for an answer and went on to do great things regardless.”