Shannon Airport is Ireland’s second transatlantic gateway after Dublin Airport.
It is located in the midwest of Ireland 24km (15 miles) from Limerick, Ireland’s third city.
The airport is home to the longest runway on the island of Ireland and is built to serve 4 million passengers per year.
3.6 million passengers travelled through the airport at its peak in 2006.
The airport was opened in 1945 on the north banks of the river Shannon; close to where the flying-boat hub of Foynes was located on the south banks.
Before the airport opened, Foynes was one of the most important aviation hubs in the world as it was the last refuelling point en route from Europe to North America and the first port of call in the other direction.
Shannon Airport took on the crucial role of Foynes when it opened and the first transatlantic proving flight landed here on Runway 06 on Sunday, 16 September 1945. It was a Pan American World Airways DC-4 named Clipper Feather.
To take advantage of all the international traffic visiting Shannon, the Irish government set up the world’s first Customs Free Zone around the airport in 1947. This included the opening of the world’s first Duty Free shop here the same year.
The Irish government established Shannon as Ireland’s sole transatlantic gateway meaning any North American-originating aircraft had to land at Shannon if they intended visting Ireland – even if they had Dublin as their final destination. This became known as the Shannon Stopover rule.
In 1958 Aer Lingus, the Irish flag carrier, began transatlantic operations from Ireland with a thrice-weekly Dublin-Shannon-Boston-New York route using Lockheed Super Constellations aircraft.
In 1969, the Irish government set up Aer Rianta to govern Ireland’s three state airports – Dublin Airport, Cork Airport and Shannon Airport.
The first Boeing 747 landed at Shannon in April 1971.
In 1980, Soviet airline Aeroflot established a hub at Shannon as it was the most westerly non-NATO airport in Europe. Flights originated in Leningrad, Moscow and St. Petersburg and continued onto Chicago, Gander, Havana (and onward to Central & South American destinations from here), Miami, New York and Washington DC.
In 1986, a bilateral agreement between Ireland and the USA allowed US immigration to be undertaken at both Dublin and Shannon airports before departure to the US. Because customs clearance was not included in the agreement, flights still had to land at international gates and terminals on arrival for inspection.
Aeroflot dismantled its Shannon hub in the 1990s with the demise of the Soviet Union. This proved to be a big loss for the local economy.
The “Shannon Stopover” was re-negotiated in 1993 to allow US carriers offer nonstop flights to Dublin. Although 50% of their flights had to land at Shannon.
A new extended and refurbished terminal opened at Shannon in 2000.
Ryanair, Ireland’s largest airline, opened a base at Shannon in 2005 with 14 routes and 26 daily flights.
The airport reached its peak in 2006 when 3.6 million passengers passed through the airport.
In 2007, Aer Lingus controversially announced that it would end all 4 daily flights between Shannon and London/Heathrow so it could transfer the slots to their new base at Belfast International Airport. The airline admitted the Shannon-Heathrow flights had been profitable but was purely for “operational reasons”. The airline has since restored the route as of 2009.
The “Shannon Stopover” was completely eliminated beginning with the Winter Season of 2007/08 in line with the EU/US “Open Skies” deal. This meant that no airline had an obligation to stop at Shannon. Air Canada and American Airlines immediately withdrew from Shannon pulling their Toronto and Chicago routes respectively with others (Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways) reducing their capacity from the airport.
The airport incurred further transatlantic losses in 2008 when Delta Air Lines and US Airways announced the closure of their Atlanta and Philadelphia routes respectively.
In July 2009, the airport was the first outside of North America to open full US Customs & Border Protection preclearance to all US-bound flights. This means all customs and immigration checks are completed before departure to the US, allowing flights to land at domestic terminals and gates on arrival without the need for further inspection.
In 2010, the airport surpassed the 50% drop-in-passengers mark from its peak in 2006. Only 1.8 million passengers travelled through the airport this year.