Pictured (from left): John Slattery, Seamus Fitzgerald and Declan Hartnettt, GECAS, Helen Downes, chief executive, Shannon Chamber and Declan Dooley, moderator. Photo: Eamon Ward.
Shannon has been at the heart of international aviation for over seventy years and is now home to the largest aerospace and aviation cluster in Ireland but its future could include the development of a centre of excellence for aircraft reconfiguration, capitalising on its reputation for quality and speed in maintenance repair overhaul (MRO) sector.
That was one of the many insights which Ennis native, Embraer Commercial Aviation’s President and CEO John Slattery shared with an audience of business executives in Dromoland, Co Clare on Friday, where he partook in an open and frank discussion on a range of topics, from Ireland’s place on a global stage, the aerospace cycle, Brexit, education and Shannon’s positioning as an international airport.
The setting was a Shannon Chamber lunch at Dromoland Castle Hotel, sponsored by GE Capital Aviation Services and co-sponsored by International Aviation Services Centre (IASC), Shannon International Leasing Conference (SILC) and FJ Hanly & Associates.
Fresh from investor discussions on Wall St, ahead of a shareholder vote on the sale of Embraer Commercial Aviation to Boeing, which he sees as a natural move in a time of consolidation in the sector, Slattery warned the many aerospace companies in Shannon and in Ireland generally not to lose sight of competitor activity in Asia and Russia, who also want to do business with Tier 1 aircraft manufacturers.
“Ireland does punch above its weight in the sector due to its talented and experienced engineering base and we’re world-class in leasing, airline operations, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and its associated services but, we can’t allow ourselves to suffer from hubris; we have an amazing tax treaty structure, which takes years to build but other countries want into the business too. We have to continue to find new opportunities and specialisations, ” he said.
Looking to the future and focusing in on education, Slattery said that the single biggest challenge for commercial aviation is human capital.
“We can’t be picking kids in university or secondary level; we need to go after them when they are in primary school and get them interested in maths. We are not focussing enough on maths; it’s being left behind. We should be looking at what schools outside Ireland, such as in India and Shanghai, are doing to interest kids in maths. Parents and kids in those parts of the world are obsessed by maths.
“We’re at a point of inflection now where big data and maths are at the core of our sector and that’s what Ireland needs to be looking at,” he stated.
Speaking about Brexit, from a personal point of view, he said it was like watching a slow car crash.
“It’s very difficult and the clock is ticking. A hard Brexit would have a huge impact on airlines at many levels,” he added
Commenting on Shannon’s future he said it had a lot of tailwind in its favour with an enormous resource at the airport. He advised companies operating in the sector to punch in the aggregate, to broaden their cluster and to seek to win one fight at a time.
Warning about the importance of the airport to Shannon as an investment location he called on all stakeholders in Shannon to continue to keep the pressure on the government to give more support to the West of Ireland.
“It will be difficult to keep the big players here without adequate connectivity.”
“Shannon can never compete with Dublin. It needs to zone in on what attracts people to the region, keep looking for support and assessing new ways of utilising its pre-clearance facilities. It cannot afford to become a cargo-based airport,” he added.
Prior to addressing Shannon Chamber members and guests at the lunch, Mr Slattery met with a small cohort of aerospace companies – Takumi, InflightFlix, Atlantic Aviation Group, Eirtech Aviation, IASC and SILC, who individually and collectively are seeking access to Tier 1 manufacturers such as Embraer.
These companies were representative of Shannon’s aerospace and aviation cluster of 60 companies which spans the industry value chain encompassing everything from aircraft leasing, engine and airframe maintenance, modification design, parts manufacturing, component repair and business aviation, employing well over 2,600 people.