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Shannon Airport writes another page in history book

Photo caption: Joe Buckley (left), cargo & technical traffic business development manager at Shannon Airport, and Andrew Row, Cathay Pacific’s cargo manager for UK & Ireland, stand in front of Cathay Pacific's B747-8F when it stopped at Shannon Airport on Dec. 19, 2013.


Shannon Airport’s history offers plenty of trivia worthy of small talk at a party.

In the 1930s, aviator Charles Lindbergh designated Shannon, Ireland, as a strategic transatlantic location. Shannon Airport opened the first-ever duty free shop, the first tax-free industrial zone in the world and the first full U.S. Customs & Border Protection passenger preclearance in Europe.

Though the airport has served as a passenger transit stop for many decades, it is now putting a greater focus on freight, with a goal to grow its cargo activity and become a well-known transit stop.

“We welcome cargo activity,” says Joe Buckley, cargo & technical traffic business development manager at Shannon Airport. “A lot of airports aren’t as interested in cargo activity because there’s such pressure on passengers and passenger activities. Cargo becomes a secondary activity.”

Shannon Airport became independent from the Dublin Airport Authority in January 2013. Until then, DAA had held responsibility for Ireland’s three largest airports: Dublin, Cork and Shannon. But because Dublin so overshadowed Shannon in size, Shannon struggled as part of the organization, Patrick Edmond, group strategy director at Shannon Airport, explains.

“The Irish government identified an opportunity for Shannon to be at the forefront of Irish aviation policy because Ireland, for example, is very, very well-established as a jurisdiction for leasing and for air finance,” Edmond says. “About half of all the leased commercial aircraft in the world are actually managed from Ireland, and a very large number of those are managed from Shannon.”

After the airport gained its independence, it concentrated on the collection of aviation companies surrounding it. The Shannon Airport Authority’s International Aviation Services Centre (IASC) combines the airport, the adjacent industrial park and the nearby businesses. It was established in January 2013, the same time Shannon Airport became independent.

About 40 companies are in this Shannon aerospace cluster, with 1,600 employees and counting.

“What we are doing is building on the existing strengths in leasing, in MRO, in support services for airlines and in corporate aviation,” says Edmond, who also serves as IASC’s managing director. “We are attracting more companies in to build out that cluster further.”

Freight lanes from the Middle East, Central Asia and China going to the U.S. and the rest of the Americas are busy. Shannon is right in the middle, an ideal spot for a technical and transit stop.

At the end of December 2013, Shannon Airport welcomed Cathay Pacific’s B747-8 freighter on that aircraft model’s maiden flight to Ireland. The plane came from Sydney via Hong Kong and Dubai.

Shannon also sees scope for expansion in the local export industry, Edmond says. The U.S. has a robust financial relationship with Ireland. U.S. companies have US$204 billion (150 billion euros) in foreign direct investment in the European country, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland.

“A lot of that investment goes into high-tech companies and goes into, for example, pharmaceutical manufacturing, high-tech equipment manufacturing – things that are very related to air cargo,” Edmond says.

He says 40 percent of all U.S.-direct investment is in the Shannon area.

Buckley points to the potential for Irish airfreight services with Shannon Airport’s cargo vision. About 80 percent of Irish airfreight is trucked to UK airports, so Shannon Airport hopes to capture some of that.

Buckley says favorable attributes for the airport include uncongested airspace and Ireland’s pro-business climate. There is strong Irish government support to develop various economic activities at Shannon, including business aviation and passenger services in addition to cargo.

“It’s going to be a cluster effect, where each business part of the cluster will help support the overall cluster,” Buckley says. “Cargo and logistics is a critical part of what we’re trying to do here.”