An interview with Neil Pakey, CEO Shannon Group plc. By Ross Falconer.
Neil Pakey is CEO of Shannon Group plc, which was established in September 2014. Shannon Group is a commercial semi-state company and comprises four strategic business units: Shannon Airport, Shannon Heritage, Shannon Commercial Properties, and the International Aviation Services Centre (IASC).
The current Shannon story is undoubtedly one of success, and it is clear in conversation with Pakey that there is a buzz about the airport and the region. This can be seen in the latest passenger figures, which show healthy 5% year-on-year growth in May. Inbound tourism from the US was a big growth factor. Last year saw strong growth of 10% across the airport’s five US services – Boston, Chicago, Newark, New York-JFK, and Philadelphia. “This year has seen the announcement of increased capacity by a number of our carriers servicing the US market,” Pakey explained. “Having secured huge growth in new capacity last year, particularly through United Airlines and US Airways, 2015 will be a year of consolidation and further growth. In total, an extra 46,000 seats will be available on US services to Shannon this year, representing an 11% increase, as Aer Lingus, Delta and American Airlines increase frequencies and capacity on their services.” Importantly, Shannon is presently one of only two airports in Europe to offer the convenience of US CBP passenger preclearance.
Shannon Airport achieved significant passenger growth in its second year as an independent entity, with 17% growth in 2014 to over 1.6 million. There is confidence that the airport can build on that tremendous increase this year, with a focus on tourism growth from key markets. “The great thing about Shannon is that it sits as the gateway to the real Ireland, the rural and friendly Ireland that the tourists identify mostly with,” Pakey enthused.
Indeed, the Wild Atlantic Way is emerging as a tremendous success story and is creating extra business and employment all along the Atlantic coast. Shannon Airport is at the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way and the main access point for international visitors travelling to Ireland to experience its wonders.
“We recently partnered with Fáilte Ireland and Aer Lingus on the launch of a newly branded ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ Aer Lingus Boeing 767 aircraft,” Pakey explained. “The plane, which will be branded for 12 weeks, will fly the Boston Logan-Shannon route. The newly branded plane is an exciting way to get our message into this key market. Last year’s launch by Aer Lingus of a daily, year-round Boston-Shannon service provided a significant boost to capacity, and the introduction of the new larger 767 plane will further increase capacity on this route by almost 7,000 seats.”
Meanwhile, last year Shannon Airport undertook a number of capital expenditure projects to upgrade facilities. It spent €4.4 million on an airport runway overlay upgrade, fire safety upgrade works, a new retail IT system, and a new traffic management system. This year will see further investment in the terminal building with a transit lounge upgrade, further upgrade of the arrivals hall, improved gate areas, and a revamp of the duty free shop. There are also plans to introduce a Shannon Duty Free online shop.
“One thing unique about Shannon, thanks to its positioning within Shannon Group, is that we are the only airport with six castles. Our tourism company Shannon Heritage operates a range of visitor attractions in Clare, Limerick and Dublin, including King John’s Castle in Limerick city, 15th century Bunratty Castle in County Clare, and Malahide Castle and Gardens in Dublin. Shannon Heritage and Shannon Airport work closely together to drive even more tourists into Ireland,” Pakey concluded.