Throughout the mid-20th century, Shannon Airport (SNN) on the west coast of Ireland was booming, as airlines used the airport as a stopover before making their trans-Atlantic crossing. Now, the airport’s luck might have run out, as the de facto Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus is lingering with moving its transatlantic services to British cities.

The trouble started to brew when Aer Lingus sought for tenders in the neighboring British island to place its Airbus A321LR (long-range) aircraft and launch new trans-Atlantic routes, as reported by the Irish Times. Six airports emerged as potential origin destinations for Aer Lingus' new services, including Edinburgh Airport (ED) in Scotland and Manchester Airport (MAN).

If Aer Lingus does withdraw its A321LRs from the Irish airport completely, it could spell big trouble for Shannon as a commercial passenger gateway. But the pot of trouble had begun boiling much before the current pandemic rolled over and flattened the airlines’ plans and in turn, income.

Boeing 737 MAX concerns

The airport had begun bleeding passengers even before the pandemic broke out. The Boeing 737 MAX groundings shrank the airport’s route network, as Norwegian Air Shuttle and Air Canada axed their services from SNN. The Norway-based low-cost carrier discontinued all of its services from Ireland in August 2019, citing the fact that the trans-Atlantic services were “no longer commercially viable.”

“We acknowledge that the grounding of the 737 MAX Jet had a major impact on this decision and Shannon was, among Irish airports, disproportionately affected, as it wiped 120,000 seats off our summer schedule through the suspension of its nine times weekly services from Shannon to Stewart and Providence,” commented the chief executive of Shannon Group Mary Considine at the time.

Citing unfavorable market conditions due to the 737 MAX groundings, Norwegian Air has decided to cut its flights from Dublin, Cork and Shannon to North American destinations.

Air Canada, which ran its flights during the summer season, quietly pulled the plug on its Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) – Shannon Airport (SNN) route, inaugurated in June 2018. The Canadian airline noted that it planned to resume its YYZ-SNN flight in the summer 2020 season in an update in April 2019, but plans shifted due to the current situation.

“The unexpected global grounding of the MAX Jet fleet for safety reasons resulted in the loss of 13 services in the peak summer season with Norwegian and Air Canada,” Considine commented on the Shannon Group’s 2019 performance.

“This was disappointing and resulted in a reduction in passengers during 2019.” In 2019, the airport lost 8% of its passengers and finished the year with 1.71 million travelers crossing its gates. In 2018, which was the last time when the airport published a detailed breakdown of its passenger numbers, it saw 1.8 million passengers. Among them, 428,512 and 197,114 were transatlantic and transit passengers, respectively, making up for more than 33% of its total traffic.

Losing more transatlantic connections

Aer Lingus‘ potential move from SNN would not be the only trans-Atlantic connection that the airport lost in 2020. In June 2020, United Airlines axed its connection to the Irish airport from New York’s Newark International Airport (EWR). At the time, a spokesperson for the airport commented that the company was “disappointed with the decision by United,” SNN was “pleased that American Airlines, Delta and Aer Lingus have indicated that they will resume their transatlantic services from Shannon in 2021.”