Wow: Shannon Wants To Become A Transatlantic Transfer Hub

At the recent AviaDev Europe conference, Simple Flying had the pleasure of chatting with Dan Irvine, Aviation Development Manager for Shannon Airport. He told me how the airport has ambitions to become a transatlantic transit hub for Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Here’s what we discussed.

Shannon could grow to become a transatlantic transit hub. Photo: Shannon Airport/Twitter

A goal to be a transatlantic hub

Shannon has been undergoing a period of growth. Since 2013, passenger traffic has increased by some 300,000, although it’s still a fair way off the 3.6 million it served prior to the abolition of the Shannon Stopover in light of Open Skies. Transit passengers have grown the most, increasing 50% in just one year.

Being the closest international airport to the US in Europe, Shannon is in a great position to lay the foundations for its future growth. Chatting to Dan Irvine, Aviation Development Manager for Shannon Airport, at the recent AviaDev Europe conference, he told me,

“Our goal really is to try and be a bit more of a transatlantic hub. Obviously we’re a lot smaller than Heathrow or Dublin, but that comes with its advantages too. We have very short connection times; we also have preclearance facilities so we can save passengers time when they arrive into the US.”

Shannon preclearance
Preclearance can save huge amounts of time when arriving in the US. Photo: Shannon Airport

Those preclearance facilities really are a massive bonus. Anyone who has ever passed through immigration at a major US airport without TSA PreCheck or some other form of expedited access will know what I mean. It’s a headache at the best of times, and not what you need after a long haul flight.

Currently, only Shannon and Dublin offer preclearance facilities to flights traveling from Europe to the USA. Sweden has signed an agreement to make it the second European country to offer preclearance, although there is, as yet, no firm date for the start of services. In 2015, the DHS has announced its intent to expand preclearance to more airports, but nothing has been firmed up yet.

As such, it places Shannon in a unique position to offer such services to flights traveling from east to west. While it would be a massive benefit to passengers to avoid the ridiculous queues at immigration, it could also open up new opportunities for airlines further east.

Who would use Shannon as a transfer hub?

The idea has already been proven in practice. BA001 operates a business only flight to the US from London City Airport every day, which stops in Shannon both for refuelling and to allow its passengers quick and easy preclearance to America. This idea saves passengers a huge amount of time, and is open to be extended to other airlines and services. Dan told me,

“We’re talking all the time to airlines about doing transit stops in Shannon. The location is ideal for airlines especially those in the Middle East and Asia, because they’ve got range considerations too. In some cases, they may not be able to make it without a transit stop with the aircraft they have, so we could offer them that ability.”

Shannon Airport family Hi Res
Shannon has not been a compulsory stopover since Open Skies launched in 2008. Photo: Shannon Airport

Pre 2008, Shannon was a compulsory stopover for transatlantic flights. The Air Services agreement between the United States and Ireland meant that a minimum of 50% of transatlantic flights had to either originate or stopover at Shannon. By 2008, this had been abolished as the new Open Skies policy came into effect.

But now, it could make sense for some airlines to consider a revival of the ‘Shannon Stopover’, in order to make those connections that would be otherwise unachievable. With aircraft like the A220 offering new opportunities to connect long and skinny routes in relative comfort, Shannon could make it possible for airlines in Asia and the east of Europe to complete a one-stop hop to the US.

A220 range from Riga
The A220’s range from Riga, for example, makes the US impossible. Photo: GCMap

Although airBaltic has stressed it has no interest in competing on the transatlantic routes, a stopover in Shannon would make it possible. The A220 has the range to reach Shannon from a number of central and eastern European locations, and then to hop to many lucrative US destinations onwards, with passengers already precleared.

What do you think? Is there scope for Shannon to become the transatlantic transit hub of its ambitions? Let us know in the comments.