Regional Gateway’s Kimberley Young summarises the latest happenings across airports serving business, regional and low-fare routes.

As the uncertainty over when the 737 MAX aircraft will be back in service continues, the cost of the global grounding on the wider aviation industry is becoming more apparent as airlines, suppliers and airports count the costs.

This week low-cost carrier Norwegian announced its decision to discontinue transatlantic routes between North America and Ireland which were originally operated with the Boeing 737 MAX.

In the past few months the airline has been wetleasing replacement aircraft to operate the routes across the pond, but amid the “continued uncertainty of its return to service” and following a review of the airline’s transatlantic operations as it seeks to switch tactics from growth to improving profitability, the airline has decided the solution is unsustainable and the routes are not commercially viable.

The decision was met with disappointment by airports in Ireland, including Shannon Airport, with Mary Considine, acting CEO of Shannon Group commenting: “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.”

For Cork, Norwegian’s nonstop service to Boston/Providence – launched in 2017 – represented its first ever scheduled transatlantic service.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland shared the news on social media, tweeting: “While this is very disappointing, we will work with airports and carriers to prioritise the North American Market. It’s so important for our regions.”

The North American markets of the US and Canada are among the most important for tourism in Ireland, according to the tourism authority, delivering 15% of all overseas visitors and 27% of all overseas tourism revenue.

Tourism Ireland has prioritised North America as a market which it says “offers a strong return on investment in terms of holiday visitors and expenditure.”

Figures from the tourism board on overseas tourism released in July indicated that North America and long-haul markets showed consistent growth throughout the year, with North America growing by 9.1% in the first five months of 2019.

The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) CEO Pat Dawson also commented: “Norwegian Air has been an important part of building passenger numbers through Cork and Shannon and we would like to see continued growth in our regional airports.”

Dawson added that though there is a lot of choice in airlines flying from Dublin, the loss of Norwegian’s transatlantic routes will reduce competition.

With the 737 MAX still on the ground, what were originally temporary plans around the initial grounding, are being extended for an uncertain future with airlines holding onto older aircraft for longer, cancelling flights and in the case of Ryanair, considering closing bases.

For regional airports such as Shannon and Cork, working to champion their cities around the world and open up new global connections for business, leisure and family travel – news of this kind is a blow for route development and time poured into marketing in new areas.

Image: Cork Airport

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