Irish state-owned Shannon Group could establish its own airline as part of a long-term strategy, according to incoming chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh.

The Irish Times reports that Ó Céidigh, the former owner of Aer Arann, made the remark in response to a suggestion from Irish senator, Timmy Dooley. He told the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications that it would be a “huge, huge task” but could be part of Shannon’s longer-term strategy.

Ó Céidigh was recently named non-executive chairman of the state-owned Shannon Group responsible for Shannon, Ireland’s second long-haul airport, as well as the International Aviation Services Centre (IASC), an aerospace industry cluster centred at Shannon Airport. The group is also the largest commercial property provider outside of Dublin and operates a range of heritage tourism attractions across Ireland under the Shannon Heritage brand. Ó Céidigh told the parliamentary committee that he aimed to recover lost passenger numbers at Shannon airport to 2019 levels within three years. He said prior to the pandemic, the airport had handled 1.7 million passengers a year.

Established in 1970, Aer Arann started as an island-hopping air service between Galway and the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, using a single BN-2.

The turning point for the airline was in 1994 when Ó Céidigh and Eugene O'Kelly purchased the airline and began to expand its routes and fleet, launching scheduled services in 1998 and serving domestic state-subsidised Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes from Dublin International. Over the next 26 years, Ó Céidigh acted as chief executive and chairman of the airline.

In 2008, Aer Arann entered into a franchise agreement with Nex Aviation and introduced European services. However, it never recovered from the global recession in 2009 and went into examinership, a high court-supervised rescue process, in 2010.

In October 2010, British logistics company Stobart Group was named as the preferred buyer of the airline. Following a major refinancing in 2014, the company changed its name to Stobart Air (Dublin International). Ó Céidigh remained a 10% shareholder.

Stobart Air took over the Aer Lingus Regional franchise formerly operated by Aer Arann and also took on a five-year agreement with flybe. (2002) (Exeter) to operate routes in Northern Europe and the Benelux.

In 2019, Stobart and Virgin Atlantic formed the Connect Airways consortium and took over flybe, which went into liquidation a year later due to ongoing difficulties compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Connect Airways also entered administration. Stobart Air in turn ceased trading on June 12, 2021. The Aer Lingus Regional brand will be taken over by Irish start-up Emerald Airlines (Ireland) (EA, Dublin International) from January 2023.