Councillors motion prevents use of airport for Aran air service

A motion has been passed by Galway county councillors that effectively prevents Carnmore Airport being used to provide an air service to the Aran Islands in future. A special meeting of the council took place yesterday to discuss the use of the airport site due to the ongoing controversy about air transport to the islands.

Aer Arann has been operating a fixed-wing service to the Aran Islands from Na Minna airport in Inverin for the past 45 years. However earlier this year the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht awarded a new contract for the service to Executive Helicopters, to be run from Galway Airport in Carnmore. As part of this contract, daily return flights by helicopter would be provided between the islands and Galway Airport until 2019. However islanders are extremely unhappy about the new contract and have demanded the retention of fixed wing services within Connemara.

The new service contract was due to be signed a fortnight ago, but the existing Aer Arann contract has now been extended until February next year.

There has been controversy surrounding the tender process as it has been revealed by the site's joint owners - Galway City and County councils - that no permission was ever sought by the Department to include Carnmore Airport in the invitation to tender for the air services.

The Carnmore site is currently leased to Carnmore Aviation Ltd until December 2015. The motion proposed and passed by councillors yesterday ensures that any proposed lease of the airport site after December 2015 will be brought before council for consideration. It was further noted that that any proposed use of the Carnmore site for an air service to the Aran Islands for the proposed tender period (four years ) is not currently permitted.

The majority of councillors at the meting were happy that the motion had clarified the situation for the people of the Aran Islands. Fine Gael's Joe Byrne said it had brought 'uniformity and clarity' to the situation. "Any further further lease arrangement of Carnmore Airport will be decided on by local representatives and that will give comfort to the residents of the Aran Islands.''

Independent councillor Jim Cuddy again asked how could the Department of Arts, Heritage, and An Gaeltacht could consider awarding a tender to a company that effectively does not have any permission to use the site. He noted that the people of Aran had made it clear they want fixed wing services to operate from Na Minna Airport and said "that is the only goal we should be working towards."

Fellow Independent Thomas Welby said the only message that people needed to take away from the meeting was that the former airport site in Carnmore is not available for a four-year contract. "I'm quite clear that nobody has use of that facility for a four year period.'' Council Cathaoirleach Peter Roche said he trusted that the motion had given reassurance to the people of the islands.

Earlier this week the results of a feasibility study undertaken to decide the best course of action for the site were released. The study considered how the potential of the site could be utilised and be of the most benefit on a regional basis. The key recommendations of the report were that expressions of interest be sought from parties interested in the establishment of a creative campus centred on the promotion/ enhancement of the film industry and the development of a complementary mixed-use business park.

The feasability study on the Carnmore site and its use in the medium to long term is due for discussion at the September meeting of the County Council to be held next Monday September 28.

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