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Shannon Airport

Shannon Airport - (Aer Rianta Website)

Shannon AirportSHANNON AIRPORT In 1934 the government decided to explore the potential of trans - Atlantic air travel. Sean Lemass was Minister for Industry and Commerce and he assigned the task of investigating possible sites to the Department of Defence under Frank Aiken. At this time long-range flying boats were being tested and the concept of a land plane capable of crossing the Atlantic was still no further than the drawing board. The survey went ahead and the site at Rineanna met with unanimous approval.

Trans - Atlantic flying into Ireland began at Foynes in 1937 when a Pan - American Yankee Clipper arrived from Newfoundland, after a twelve-hour and thirty-one minute journey. The first test flights into the new airport at Rineanna landed on May 18th, 1939. These were two Air Corps Anson light aircraft. The onset of World War II brought a virtual halt to commercial aviation, but development work continued at Rineanna.

At the end of the war commercial flying resumed. On September 16th, 1945, the first trans - Atlantic proving flight by a Pan - American DC4 Skymaster landed at Shannon. It had taken seven hours, forty-five minutes to fly from Gander. The first commercial trans - Atlantic flight landed on October 24th, 1945, and this was a DC4 of American Export Airlines.

During the first decade of the airport, Shannon gained a remarkable reputation among the world's air travellers. 1947 was a significant year when Sean Lemass declared it as the world's first customs free airport. The airport's early success was due largely to the fact that aircraft had limited range and had to refuel at the earliest opportunity after the Atlantic crossing. By the late 1950's jets were being introduced which had a range in excess of 4,000 miles, enabling them to fly to Britain or Europe directly. However, Shannon quickly adapted to the new circumstances with the construction of a new 10,000 feet jet runway, and the establishing of Shannon Development Company in 1959. S.F.A.D.C.O. as it became known, had three main functions : to develop trans - Atlantic passenger traffic; to establish tourist facilities which would encourage terminal traffic; and to develop freight activity at the airport. The establishment of Bunratty and Knappogue Castle Banquets, Bunratty Folk Park, Craggaunowen Centre, and the Rent an Irish Cottage Scheme were all instrumental in encouraging tourists to come to Clare and in ensuring the survival of the airport. The establishment of the Industrial Free Zone, in 1958, was another milestone in the success story of Shannon. By 1964 employment in the industrial area exceeded that at the airport.

In the 1980's Aeroflot, the U.S.S.R. airline established a Russian fuel base at Shannon. In 1993 the government decided to change the International status of Shannon Airport.

Up to this Shannon status was enshrined in a bilateral agreement entered into in the late 1930's between the U.S. and Irish government authorities which provided for Shannon to have the exclusive rights as the gateway to America for all air traffic in and out of Ireland. Shannon now competes with Dublin airport for US traffic into Ireland. This change of status has caused a lot of controversy in the region.

Shannon Airport has brought great prosperity to Clare. It was a key factor in attracting industry to the Mid-West, and it played a major role in the development of tourism in the region. Shannon has an incomparable place in contemporary Irish society as a town established as part of a government policy to promote an area zoned for industry and to increase traffic through an airport.