Flying High

Shannon is fast becoming a global leader in the aviation industry, thanks to its excellent location, skilled workforce and forward-thinking attitude.

Attracting foreign companies to Ireland has long been a key strategy of government, but with space and property prices at a premium in Dublin and its surrounds, developing key regional areas as hubs for certain industries is an excellent strategy for both the companies looking for an Irish presence, and for the communities living in the area. In the Midwest, much headway has been made to develop Shannon Airport as a real global player in the aerospace industry, particularly in the last few years, thanks largely to the stellar work by the International Aviation Services Centre (IASC), a business unit within Shannon Group set up in 2012. IASC Managing Director Patrick Edmond explains how and why the unit was established.

“Shannon Airport was under the management of Dublin Airport Authority for many years, but in 2012, the government decided it made more sense to have a locally managed and controlled company look after not just developing air passengers but also the cluster of aviation and aerospace companies located around Shannon.”

“While several Irish higher education institutions have entered the aviation arena in the last decade, UL’s position as the leader in the engineering and technical side of the industry remains clear-cut.”

The name was chosen to mirror the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin, explains Patrick, and the vision from the start was to develop Shannon as a hub for the aerospace industry.

“Ireland has been terribly successful in developing centres for various industries over the years, such as pharmaceutical and medtech, and there’s no reason why Ireland can’t do the same in aerospace. We have a highly educated workforce and we have a strong presence in the shape of aircraft leasing, for example, and in aircraft maintenance – the latter is quite Shannon-specific. So we feel that we are in a strong position to develop Ireland’s role in the global aerospace industry – an industry that is growing rapidly, with an estimated 35,000 new airliners being added to the global fleet over the next 20 years.”

This rapid growth means lots of opportunities, for which Patrick believes Shannon is ideally positioned.

“This growth means opportunities for manufacturers, for engineers, for training pilots, for dealing with aircraft transitioning from one company to another, recycling aircraft parts and so on – our vision for IASC was to develop a nucleus in Ireland to develop these opportunities. And I’m happy to say that from three to four years ago, we have gone from 40 companies to almost 60 companies, and we’re up to 2,600 jobs in the cluster right now – and that continues to grow.”

Patrick says that this growth can particularly be seen over the last year, with a good amount of construction taking place in the area.

“One of our key challenges is how fast we can build new office and industrial space and warehouses, because we’re really seeing both the critical mass of the cluster growing and attracting new aerospace companies, but also US companies realising they want a presence in Ireland but seeing the high prices in Dublin – and choosing to come here instead.”

Shannon region has a number of attractions for foreign companies, not just ones in the aerospace sector looking for an Irish presence: space, access to an educated workforce, and its location.

“In Shannon, you have all the advantages of being in the Irish jurisdiction and the links to Irish industry,” says Patrick, “but you also have great quality of life, access to excellent talent thanks to the likes of the University of Limerick – who are very aware of industry’s needs when it comes to a skilled workforce – and you get much lower property costs. We are also developing the airport in terms of passenger and cargo traffic – and we recognise the airport as being absolutely critical for companies looking to locate in Shannon.”

Developing Shannon as a global aerospace hub has obvious advantages for the area in terms of jobs.

“By and large, companies are finding much of what they want in terms of workers,” says Patrick, “but there are lot of opportunities in the aviation technical space, as with so many more new aircraft being delivered into the global fleet that there is an increase in demand globally for skilled people who can work with aircraft. So it’s important for us to be working with UL and with apprentice providers to show there are, and will be, people available for these companies now and in the future.”

By its very nature, the aerospace industry is a global one, and so with more jobs in the sector developing in Ireland, there is also scope for skilled Irish people working abroad to return home.

“We can see this as one of Ireland’s strengths as well,” says Patrick. “There’s a huge diaspora out there, and if we can put the underlying companies and framework in place, then the people will come back.”

It seems the future for Shannon is bright – which can only be good for the surrounding area and population.

“We’ve been growing the aviation cluster, and in a broader sense too, we’re seeing more and more companies choosing Shannon as a location, and we’ll have more announcements in 2018 too. That’s a reflection of all we can offer in the region in general and in Shannon in particular.”