The Minister for Rural and Community Development has announced a €4.9m contract to support air services to the Aran Islands.

The Public Service Obligation (PSO) contract with Aer Arainn includes a new direct service to the smaller islands of Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr.

Heather Humphreys said the four-year contract will provide long-term certainty for island communities.

The new contract comes into effect on Tuesday and will provide moer than 68,000 seats annually to the Aran Islands.

Minister Humphreys said that today’s announcement follows extensive consultation with stakeholders and a full procurement process, which will ensure mainland connectivity over the next four years.

She said island communities can continue to avail of a year-round, reliable and affordable air service to the airport in Conamara.

“This is the first time that we’re going to have direct flights in Inis Oírr and Inis Meáin,” the minister said.

“This means that there are more people able to travel to the islands. The 68,000 seats is an expanded service and it’s a beautiful place to go.

“I know everybody wants to get out of the country and I’d certainly recommend they take up an offer to go to the Aran Islands with this new improved service.”

The contract allows for flexible scheduling with extra flights put on to meet surges in demand when the likes of festivals and other crowd gathering events are taking place on the islands.

There will also be non-PSO flights to meet any demand above the agreed seating allocation.

Bríd Sharry, the principal of the local secondary school on Inis Oírr, said the new direct service is a game changer for the island.

She described it as “a need not a want”.

Ms Sharry said the regular guaranteed service with built in flexibility will bring peace of mind to all the islanders.

There are around 300 people living on Inis Oírr and the cost of a return trip on Aer Arann averages around €35 for islanders.

Ciaran O’Conghaile and his wife Nollaig (above) run a food stall on the island and have three daughters, Fiadh, Ríoghnach and Órnaith.

They say the direct service with built-in extra flights complements the daily ferry sailings and brings much needed business to the local economy.