Shannon Airport has played a significant role in the history of world aviation. The airport site was chosen because of its location in the West of Ireland representing the shortest transatlantic route between Europe and America. After a number of investigations in the 1930s to find a suitable base for the operation of seaplanes and land planes on a transatlantic service, Shannon was chosen in preference to sites at Galway and Cork.
However, work on the construction of a seaplane harbour was never completed as it became evident that the use of seaplanes would cease. In the early years the importance of Shannon was based on the fact that a plane could carry a heavier payload (passengers and goods) between the US and Europe if there was an intermediate refuelling stop. By 2000 Shannon Airport handled over 2 million passengers and over 40,000 tonnes of cargo annually.


Prior to the development of Shannon Airport, transatlantic aviation in the Shannon Estuary first commenced with a seaplane base at Foynes. The first commercial non-stop transatlantic flight was to the flying boat base in Foynes. The flight was made in 1942 by Captain Charles Blair in a Sikorsky VS-44 flying boat. The airboat facilities in Foynes closed in 1946 and transatlantic operations transferred to Shannon Airport.

The runway was constructed on the mud flat lands of Kilconry and Rineanna and involved significant engineering works. An extensive network of drains and concrete pipes were laid and interconnected to drain the floods and surface water from a boggy area of more than 2.5 km sq. The water, collected by this network, was finally pumped into the Shannon. The project also involved extensive earthmoving operations.


Mechanical plant consisted of a few old Ruston excavators and solid iron wheeled tractors, which were transferred from arterial drainage jobs around the country. Material was transported to working points by a combination of little bogies hauled by small diesel locomotives on miniature railway lines and horse and cart. By the end of World War II the new airfield was ready for use by the post war transatlantic commercial airliners.

In the late 1950s as the era of jet travel approached it became obvious that Runway 05/23 was structurally inadequate and too short to accommodate the new generation of aircraft. A site to the west of the existing runways was chosen in an attempt to avoid the soft alluvial mud and peat layers on which the old runways were built. The first jets landed and took off from the partially complete runway in 1960. By 1966 the 3,200m long runway was complete.


October 1936: Commencement of construction of Runway

18 May 1939: Arrival of first aircraft

11 July 1939: Arrival of first passenger aircraft

16 Sept 1945: Arrival of first transatlantic proving flight

24 Oct 1945: Arrival of first Transatlantic passengers

18 March 1947: Shannon established as the first duty free airport in the world