Shannon Airport (Irish: Aerfort na Sionainne) (IATA: SNN, ICAO: EINN) is one of the Republic of Ireland's three primary airports along with Dublin and Cork. It is the third busiest airport in the Republic of Ireland and the fifth busiest on the island of Ireland after Dublin, Belfast-International, Cork and Belfast City. The airport is located in Shannon, and mainly serves Limerick and the mid-west of Ireland.

History:

In the late 1930s, transatlantic air traffic was dominated by flying boats, and a flying boat terminal was located at Foynes on the south side of the Shannon Estuary. However, it was realised that changing technology would require a runway and airport.

In 1936 the Government of Ireland confirmed that it would develop a 3.1 km2 (1.2 sq mi) site at Rineanna for the country's first transatlantic airport. The land on which the airport was to be built was boggy, and on 8 October 1936 work began to drain the land. By 1942 a serviceable airport had been established and was named Shannon Airport. By 1945 the existing runways at Shannon were extended to allow transatlantic flights to land.

When World War II ended, the airport was ready to be used by the many new post-war commercial airlines of Europe and North America. On 16 September 1945 the first transatlantic proving flight, a Pan Am DC-4, landed at Shannon from New York City. On 24 October, the first scheduled commercial flight, an American Overseas Airlines DC-4, passed through Shannon Airport.

The number of international carriers rose sharply in succeeding years as Shannon became well known as the gateway between Europe and the Americas. Limited aircraft range necessitated refuelling stops on many journeys. Shannon became the most convenient stopping point before and after the trip across the Atlantic.

In 1947 the "Customs Free Airport Act" established Shannon as the world's first duty free airport. Shannon became a model for other Duty Free facilities worldwide. That same year, the airport completed.

In 1958, the Irish Airline Aer Lingus began transatlantic service to the United States, using Lockheed Super Constellations for thrice-weekly service to New York City and Boston.

The 1960s proved to be difficult for Shannon Airport. With the introduction of new long range jet aircraft, transit traffic fell sharply as the need to refuel at Shannon became unnecessary.

In 1966, Aer Lingus began service between Shannon and Chicago, with a stop in Montréal, Canada. This route was taken out of service in 1979.

In 1969, it was announced that a new government agency, Aer Rianta (now the Dublin Airport Authority), would be given responsibility for Shannon Airport. Passenger numbers at the airport reached 460,000 that same year. With the increase in passengers and the introduction of the Boeing 747, it was decided that a new enlarged terminal was needed. The first commercial operation of a 747 took place in April 1971, while the new terminal officially opened in May of that year. In 1974, a major increase in fuel prices had a dramatic effect on transit traffic.

The 1980s saw a number of new airlines arrive at Shannon. Aer Rianta and the Soviet airline, Aeroflot, had signed an agreement and by 1980 Aeroflot had established a fuel farm at Shannon. The fuel farm was to hold Soviet fuel and soon Aeroflot planes were stopping at Shannon to refuel enroute to destinations in South, Central, and North America. The number of Aeroflot flights went from 240 aircraft in 1980, to 2000 aircraft by 1991. In 1989, US carrier Delta Air Lines launched flights from Shannon and Dublin to Atlanta and New York-JFK. The New York route was dropped after 9/11 but has since re-commenced.

During the 1990s the airport began to struggle. The bilateral agreement with the United States was renegotiated resulting in fewer planes required to stopover in Shannon. However, 1996 saw the beginning of Continental Airlines flying between Dublin, Shannon and Newark, New Jersey.

With the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Aeroflot began to suffer which was a big loss to the airport. Aeroflot had brought 250,000 passengers a year through Shannon.

Shannon began to rebound in the late 1990s with the success of the Irish economy, the improving situation in Northern Ireland, and an influx of American tourists. By the end of the decade Shannon had passengers numbers of 2.2 million and in the year 2000, a new £40 million terminal extension was opened.

Shannon stopover:

The first Air Services Agreement with the United States in 1945 only permitted flights to Shannon, and only permitted Irish airlines to serve Boston, Chicago and New York. In 1971, the US Civil Aeronautics Board announced that unless US planes were allowed to operate into Dublin Airport they proposed to ban Aer Lingus from landing in New York. Eventually an agreement was reached which allowed one US carrier, TWA, to service Dublin Airport through Shannon.

In 1990, the US-Ireland bilateral agreement was changed to allow Irish airlines to serve Los Angeles, and additional US airlines to serve Dublin via Shannon. An amendment in 1993 allowed airlines to provide direct transatlantic services to Dublin, but still 50% of transatlantic flights had to originate or stop over in Shannon.

In 2005, an agreement was reached regarding a transitional period. Beginning in November 2006 and ending in April 2008, the agreement eliminated restrictions on cargo services. For passenger service, it reduced the stopover requirement and increased the number of US destinations Irish airlines could serve by three. Furthermore, it was agreed that at the end of this period, no restrictions would be placed on scheduled services between any airport in the one country to any airport in the other.

In 2007, the European Union and USA announced that an agreement had been reached on an open skies aviation policy. The agreement came into effect from March 30 2008. This effectively led to the complete abolition of the Shannon Stopover, although this would have happened under the 2005 agreement anyway.

Suspension of Aer Lingus transatlantic routes for Winter 2010/11:

Aer Lingus announced on 15 June 2010 that it would be suspending services from Shannon to Boston and New York (JFK) for 11 weeks from January 2011.

Military stopover issue:

Shannon Airport has a history of foreign military use. A large part of its business in recent years has been military stopovers, currently almost all American; however the airport was also frequently used by the Soviet military until the 1990s, since Ireland, as a neutral country, was not a member of NATO. There were some restrictions, such as being unarmed, carrying no arms, ammunition or explosives, and that the flights in question do not form part of military exercises or operation. Shannon saw military transports throughout the Cold War and during the first Gulf War.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the Irish government offered the use of Shannon to the US government. When the United States expanded the War On Terrorism from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003, the government still allowed its use by the United States armed forces. This caused much controversy and was the subject of protests and a challenge brought to the High Court. In January 2003, a woman took an axe to the nose cone and fuel lines of a US Navy jet; however a trial ended in her acquittal. In February 2003, a group known as the Pitstop Ploughshares damaged a United States Navy C-40 Clipper aircraft at the airport. They were tried three different times and ultimately ended up also being acquitted.

A 2007 survey found 58% of Irish people opposed the use of Shannon for prosecuting the Iraq war.

As of November 2008, approximately 1.2 million troops have passed through Shannon since the beginning of the Iraq War. This has generated significant revenue for the airport and has offset the loss of flights from the end of the Shannon stopover and the general downturn in the global aviation industry.

Rendition flight allegations:

On 6 December 2005, the BBC programme Newsnight alleged that Shannon was used on at least 33 occasions by United States Central Intelligence Agency flights, thought to be part of a US policy called extraordinary rendition. The New York Times reported the number to be 33, though referring to "Ireland" rather than Shannon, while Amnesty International has alleged the number of flights to be 50. The United States has denied these allegations.

Facilities:
East-facing side of the terminal building

The current airport terminal was opened on the 27 March 2000 by the then Minister of Transport Mary O'Rourke. This facility has 40 check-in desks, 5 baggage carousels and 14 boarding gates (including 6 airbridges). There are nearly 40 aircraft parking stands. The car-parks can hold over 5,000 cars.

Much of the older landside section of the airport has been renovated with new 'Shannon Airport' branding. The airside area is currently being renovated and is set to be completed in May 2010.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Pre-clearance:
The United States immigration booths at Shannon prior to the opening of the new Customs and Border Protection facilities

In 1986 a United States border preclearance facility was opened at Shannon, eliminating the need to go through immigration on arrival in the United States. In November 2008, it was announced that customs and agriculture inspections would be added, making Shannon the first airport in Europe to offer this service. This is expected to be a big incentive to attract airlines and corporate jets to Shannon. Shannon Airport spent €21 million on the facilities. To have these facilities put in place a two story, 7,000 square metre extension to the main terminal building has been constructed. The facility opened the morning of 5 August 2009. The passengers on Continental Airlines flight CO25 from Shannon to Newark were first to use the facilities which give Shannon a unique status.

On March 1, 2010, Shannon Airport became the first airport outside the U.S. to offer U.S. Customs and Border Protection to Private Aircraft. The US Customs and Border Protection facility that is set to open at Dublin Airport in November 2010 will be used for commercial aircraft only.

British Airways operates a twice-daily business class only flight from London City Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York with a stopover in Shannon. This allows them to take off from the short runway of City airport which is located in the London Docklands area, stop for fuel in Shannon while passengers go through pre-clearance and arrive without the need to go through immigration or customs.

New cargo facility:

A new cargo facility is to be built on the current cargo site. The SAA (Shannon Airport Authority) have signed an agreement with the Lynxs Group to provide a 200,000 square feet state-of-the-art facility at the airport.

The planned cargo port would be built at a cost of $15m and would include aircraft parking, an immediate taxiway and access to public roads. Also included are the normal cargo facilities such as chilled and freezer storage.

Lynxs anticipates an event by mid 2010 with the final stages of construction to be completed by early 2011.

Incidents and accidents:

Due to the location of Shannon, it receives a large number of emergency stopovers.

16 July 1943 - a British Overseas Airways Corporation de Havilland DH91 Fortuna crash-landed short of the Runway 14 threshold. There were no injuries.

18 June 1946 - an Aer Lingus Douglas DC-3, Charlie Alpha, on a domestic flight from Rineanna to Dublin crashed shortly after takeoff with only minor injuries reported.
December 27, 1946 - TWA Flight 6863 crashed attempting to land at the airport.

April 15, 1948 - Pan Am Flight 101 crashed attempting to land at the airport.

5 September 1954 - KLM Flight 633 from Amsterdam to New York, using Shannon as a refueling stop, crashed just after takeoff into a mudbank adjacent to the airport. 28 people on board died.

15 July, 1956 - a Swissair Convair CV-440-11 crashed on approah to the airport due to pilot error. The aircraft was on a flight from San Diego to Zürich via New York, Gander and Shannon. The crash killed all four crew on board.

14 August 1958 - KLM Flight 607-E from Amsterdam to New York crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after a refueling stop at Shannon.

26 February 1960 - an Alitalia Douglas DC -7 crashed after taking off from the airport, killing 34 people out of 52 passengers and crew on board.

10 September 1961 - a President Airlines Douglas DC-6 crashed into the river Shannon after taking off from the airport on a flight to Canada. The disaster killed all 83 passengers and crew, one of the worst air disasters in Ireland's history.

30 September, 1977 - an Interconair Bristol 175 Britannia 253 overran the airport's runway after severe vibration on the approach. The left wing broke off and caught fire but none of the six crew were injured in the crash.

1 March, 1999 - Channel Express Flight 6526 suffered engine problems and vibration of the aircraft and landed on Runway 24, stopping on the grass; no-one was injured in the incident.

13 January 2010 - an Arkefly Boeing 767-300 PH-AHQ operating flight OR361 from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Aruba declared an emergency after a man who claimed to have a bomb on board was in a struggle with the flight crew. The aircraft made an emergency landing at Shannon and Gardaí stormed the plane and arrested the man, taking him to Shannon Garda station. A passenger who had surgery in the previous month collapsed in the terminal while waiting for the continuation of the flight and had to be taken to a local hospital. A replacement aircraft, PH-AHY, also a Boeing 767-300, continued the flight to Aruba.