September saw another busy month of military activity at Shannon. There were over 100 landings by Omni Air International planes, which is the airline chartered to carry US troops to and from Iraq. This is an average of more than 3 a day, and is a significant increase on the traffic in previous months.
The Transportation Command of the US military relies heavily on contracts with the commercial transport industry to move troops, equipment and supplies around the world. Historically, over 90 percent of troops and 40 percent of long-range air cargo are moved by chartered commercial aircraft.
September also saw 13 Hercules C-130 aircraft at the airport. The true nature of their missions or cargo is unknown, but what is known is that they operate throughout the U.S. Air Force, serving with Air Mobility Command (based in the U.S.), Air Force Special Operations Command, warzone commands, Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve Command. It can accommodate oversized military cargo including helicopters and six-wheeled armored vehicles, as well as standard cargo and military personnel. Along with C-17 Globemaster IIIs (which have also been spotted regularly at Shannon) they provide "intra-theater heavy airlift, helping to sustain operations throughout Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa" according to the Air Force1 .
The number of Hercules recorded at Shannon in September is higher than any month since detailed recordings began in August 2007.
While September saw fewer U.S. Air Force executive jets, Boeing 737's and 752's than previous months, there were a number of notable non-military visitors to the airport. N713CK, a Boeing 747 operated by Kalitta Air was at the airport on 27th September. Kalitta is an airline known to have links to covert intelligence and military operations; in 2006, for example, it was found to be transporting laser guided bombs through Prestwick for the Israeli bombing of Lebanon.
September also saw the return of two planes associated with the CIA rendition networks. A Gulfstream IV, registration N404AC was in Shannon on September 2nd and 4th. And on the 1st and 4th N71PG, another suspect rendition plane operated by Phoenix Air Group, was a visitor.
As airline companies running scheduled civilian flights trip over themselves to abandon Shannon arport, the business of war and terror seems to be on the increase there. Delta Air have decided to end their long standing service to to the U.S. and Aer Lingus recently announced that it will not be utilising the much heralded US pre-clearance facilities at Shannon until mid-2010 at the earliest. The timing of the latest increase in U.S. military traffic calls into question the plans of the airport authorities and the Irish government for the future of Shannon. It also puts employees and service providers in the difficult moral position of having to choose between earning a living for themselves and their families, and facilitating the death and suffering of innocent people.
Picture shows a Hercules C-130 photographed at Shannon Airport on 27th September.