The US Department of Defence has confirmed that 12,154 military flights have gone through Shannon between 2001 and the start of 2011. These took 2,030,925 armed troops and 8,487 tonnes of military cargo through what is supposed to be a civilian airport.
The figures which were published by RTE based on a freedom of information request to the US authorities are in line with military flight data recorded and published by Shannonwatch. Both show that on average more than 3 US military flights pass through Shannon every day. Most of these are troop carriers operated by Omni Air International. They use an ageing fleet of DC-10's, many of which are more than 25 years old.
Former Irish Army commandant Edward Horgan who is a member of Shannonwatch (quoted in the Irish Times) said: “I am particularly concerned about the safety of DC-10s which seem to experience an inordinate number of engine problems. These are old aircraft now and they are also licensed to carry munitions, which makes them a significant additional hazard.”
There have been a least six incidents so far this year involving Omni DC-10s at Shannon, including two in a 24-hour period in February.
The US Department of Defence data gives the annual breakdown of flights, troop numbers and cargo passing through Shannon. Shannonwatch provides a more detailed monthly breakdown of civilian planes like Omni that are carrying US troops or cargo through Shannon, as well as US Air Force/Navy aircraft at the airport.
Missions Arriving or Departing Ireland (1 Jan 2001 to 26 Jan 2011) [Published by RTE]
The figures for the first 26 days of January of this year confirm that 81 aircraft landed at Shannon. Shannonwatch records show 60 troop/cargo carriers and an additional 20 US Air Force/Navy/Army planes for the same period. Shannonwatch only records planes which it confirms as having landed at Shannon Airport, and as a result our figures may be lower than the actual number of landings.
The US troop carriers that were at Shannon in January included several Omni Air DC-10s (N270AX, N720AX, N621AX, N531AX), as well as Boeing 767s (N342AX, N351AX AND N378AX) and a Boeing 757 (N531AX).
The Navy planes included C-9s (registrations 159118 and 159113) that provide cargo and passenger transportation as well as "forward deployment logistics support" and a C-20G that provides long range, medium airlift logistics support for Fleet Battle Groups (165093). There was also a C-37B (166378) at Shannon on Jan 15th. The latter is based on the Gulfstream V and provides world-wide airlift for senior leadership and dignitaries.
The US Air Force planes included two MC-130P Hercules Combat Shadows (66-0223 and 66-0216), two C-37As (99-0402 and 06-0500), and a Gulfstream C-40B (01-0040). A C-40C (02-0202) which is similar to the C-40B landed on January 28th.
The C-37A is used for high-ranking government and Defense Department officials. The primary customers of the C-40B are combatant commanders, and the C-40C's customers include members of the Cabinet and Congress. The C-40B/C is based on the Boeing 737-700 Business Jet.
Clearly is is not only rank and file US soldiers that are using Shannon Airport. But while the men and women who do the fighting are forced to travel in the old, dangerous DC-10s operated by Omni Air International, the commanders, politicians and senior officials are all provided with much more luxurious and safer modes of transport. And of course they also get extra-special treatment when on Irish soil.