The Chief Executive of Aer Lingus, Dermot Mannion, has told Shannon politicians and business leaders that the decision to discontinue Aer Lingus services to Heathrow will not be changed.

He said the volume of negative reaction to the decision has exceeded anything the company had expected but there was still no basis for a change of policy.

However, Mr Mannion said the Aer Lingus slots at Heathrow, which are now leased to other airlines, will become available again in 2009 and 2011 and at that time the company would look at the 'competing opportunities' of Shannon and other airports.

Minister for Defence and local TD, Willie O'Dea, said he would continue to fight the move inside and outside the Cabinet and dismissed suggestions that he should resign in protest at the decision.

Following the meeting, the Atlantic Connectivity Alliance Chairman John Brassil said: 'The battle to reverse the Aer Lingus decision to abandon their Shannon Heathrow service is only beginning.'

Up to 5,000 people took part in a protest march at Shannon tonight to express their anger at the ending of the Shannon to Heathrow route.

Meanwhile, John Gormley (left) has raised concerns over the Aer Lingus decision. The Minister for the Environment said he wants to meet his Cabinet colleagues to tease out the concerns of people in the mid-west.

He met business people and party members in Co Clare last night to discuss the controversial decision, saying the airline's move was not in line with Government aviation or regional development policies

However, On RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland, the Editor of Flight International magazine, David Learmont, insisted that Shannon does not need the route to Heathrow because it already has links to the other two London hubs.

Mr Learmont added that businesses located in the region should have seen the move coming and he said he could not understand the level of opposition to the Aer Lingus decision

He highlighted that the rest of the world is shunning Heathrow because it is 'congested and unreliable' in favour of interchanges at Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

Mannion wants strike called off

Aer Lingus CEO Dermot Mannion has appealed to the 480 pilots who are threatening to strike next week to call off their action.

Mr Mannion described the action as 'wholly unecesssary' and said it would do damage to everybody's interests.

Strike notice by the pilots remains in place after an offer to call off their planned 48-hour stoppage was rejected by the airline.

The IMPACT trade union says Aer Lingus rejected a proposal to suspend its recruitment plans in Belfast and enter into talks.

The dispute centres on the airline's opening of a new hub in Belfast where pilots say they will be employed on less favourable terms and conditions.

The strike is planned for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

A spokesman for Ryanair said the company has written to Aer Lingus offering the use of two of its aircraft and crew on Tuesday and Wednesday.