July 2, 2012

Officials are looking at separating Shannon Airport, the historical aviation gateway between America and Europe, from the Dublin Airport Authority and, in doing so, are reaching out to business aviation owners and operators in hopes of becoming a “center of excellence” within the industry.

At the Irish Business Aviation Convention, held at Dromoland Castle in County Clare recently, Aoife O’Sullivan, who chairs the European Business Aviation Association Finance and Leasing Group, called for those plans to strongly promote business aviation operations, ownership and finance.

“There is a very real opportunity for the center of excellence that the government is trying to champion and the beauty about it is that a lot of the pieces for this puzzle are already available. It’s just a case of bringing them together. It really is there for the taking,” O’Sullivan told more than 100 business aviation representatives attending the conference. “You need to work fast, however, as the opportunity could easily be lost as other jurisdictions are looking at this. Shannon has a lot going for it, and it’s really a case of joining the dots and packaging an intelligent offering that will certainly attract the business aviation sector.”

Irish government officials are pushing for the creation of a Shannon Airport Authority that would be independent of the Dublin Airport Authority, which now runs the facility. It would also be debt-free, making it more attractive to outside investors who would take part in a public-private partnership to oversee the airport. Transport Minister Leo Varadkar hopes to launch that partnership without the €100 million debt now carried by Shannon Airport.

O’Sullivan urged Shannon executives to intensify their efforts to market the airport.

“There is a real focus now on exploiting Shannon Airport’s unique advantages, including being the first airport in the world with full U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Preclearance, its location as the most westerly international airport in Europe and the fact that it is an uncongested airport,” said Shannon Airport Director Mary Considine. “Everyone involved in Shannon, from the airport executive to the Irish government, are focused on delivering a new offering that will include a very attractive operating environment for business aviation.”

Both Considine and O’Sullivan strongly advocate a new tax incentive to go with the already low Irish corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent.

“Again, experience in this sector is key. We’ve got a really outstanding legacy in aviation which underpins this, across MRO, leasing, etc. An enhanced tax regime will bring all of this together, and we look forward to the outcome of a government led process on how best this can be developed,” Considine said.

She also said Shannon Airport presents a unique opportunity to U.S. business operators who find the airport and the surrounding trade zone both familiar and useful.

“The drivers of this airport in the early days also identified business opportunities arising from this transit traffic and, with government support, the tax incentivized Shannon Free Zone was created around the airport. To this day, it is the largest collection of U.S. industries in any one industrial park in Ireland. Within the Shannon Free Zone there is an aviation cluster, with activities from MRO to aircraft leasing,” said Considine.