LAST October, Ryanair released their passenger figures for the summer period from April to September.
They said the decision in 2013 by the Government to scrap the travel tax has allowed them to carry an extra 648,000 passengers through Irish airports over the six-month period.
However, these increases are through Dublin, Shannon and Knock airports. Ryanair has reduced passenger numbers through Cork and Kerry.
In particular, Cork Airport’s loss has been Shannon’s gain and, while nobody would begrudge Shannon anything that would stimulate growth, it would appear that Cork is being treated as the Cinderella in airport infrastructure.
This is despite the fact that it has a modern, state-of-the-art terminal, that has drawn admiration from foreign visitors.
While increasing routes through Dublin and Shannon, Ryanair has cut services from Cork because they consider the landing charges there to be too high.
Why is this? The reason is twofold: Cork Airport is saddled with a €200 million debt that is simply unsustainable. Of equal importance is the fact that it is actually controlled by the Dublin Airport Authority whereas Shannon has been made independent and debt-free.
The plight of Cork Airport was not mentioned by Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe at the Fine Gael annual party conference last weekend. The minister concentrated on tourism in his address and mentioned the decision to axe the travel tax as central to the increase in airline passenger numbers last year. However, the elephant in the room was the lack of a level playing field for Cork Airport.
It has now been revealed, however, that Mr Donohoe was acutely aware of Ryanair’s decision to cut Cork flights when he made his speech. Documents released to Fianna Fáil under the Freedom of Information Act show that he was made aware that the cheaper landing charges at Shannon were the reason behind the Ryanair move.
Separating Shannon from Dublin was also hugely instrumental in its growth and its ability to attract low-cost airlines. It is hard to argue with Fiann Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s contention that there is no question that the manner in which they separated Shannon has been the single most influencing factor in Ryanair’s decision to divert some operations from Cork.
Ryanair is a hugely successful airline and it is inevitable they will seek to limit costs wherever they arise. It is equally inevitable that airport managers will attempt to woo them with reduced charges in order to attract more business. What should not be inevitable, though, is the decline of an airport that has served its environs well since the 1960s. Just before the 9-11 attacks, Cork was set to introduce a transatlantic route to Boston. That prospect seems farther away than ever.
Just as a runway must have a level surface, so Cork Airport should be given a level playing field if it is to look to the future with confidence. It cannot continue to operate with unfair monetary and managerial constraints.
Is that too much to ask, minister?