Ireland’s airports must become ‘Brexit-proof’

Exploiting the north American and European markets can help Brexit-proof airports such as Cork, its managing director has said. And a European aviation body has warned that a hard Brexit will be a disaster for UK-based airlines, writes Pádraig Hoare.

Cork Airport boss Niall MacCarthy said the 4% rise in passenger figures in November compared to a year ago showed new markets to offset a drop in British visitors was working.

“November’s increase in passenger numbers at Cork Airport is a positive indicator of our firm objective to increase routes and connectivity from Ireland’s second biggest international airport.

“This also Brexit-proofs our business by diversifying into new markets in Europe and north America ahead of uncertain times for our nearest source market in the UK,” he said. CSO figures showing a 6% drop in British visitors also showed a 16% increase in north American visitors between January and October of this year.

More than 14,000 passengers have used the first-ever transatlantic flight between Cork and Providence in Rhode Island on the US east coast, Cork Airport said.

“With the launch of Cork’s first year-round transatlantic route this summer with Norwegian as well as significant European additions with new Airline partners in Swiss, Iberia Express and Volotea, Cork Airport is actively pursuing growth,” said Mr MacCarthy.

The director general of the airlines group the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said a hard Brexit would be a disaster for UK-based airlines.

Alexandre de Juniac said if traffic rights are not negotiated because “it will be a disaster for the UK-based carriers because they will not be allowed to land in Europe”.

Mr de Juniac said he did not think it would come to that, but said airlines needed clarity on future flying rights by October next year at the latest.

The IATA in its forecast for 2018 said it expected global industry net profit to rise to $38.4bn (€32.5bn), an improvement from the $34.5bn expected net profit in 2017. It said it expected a 6% in passengers globally to 4.3 billion, as well as a 9.5% rise in revenues to $824bn.

The body, which represents 275 airlines comprising 83% of global air traffic, said strong demand, savings and reduced interest payments will help airlines improve net profitability in 2018 despite rising costs.

Mr de Juniac said: “These are good times for the global air transport industry. Safety performance is solid. We have a clear strategy that is delivering results on environmental performance. More people than ever are travelling. The demand for air cargo is at its strongest level in over a decade.

“Employment is growing. More routes are being opened. Airlines are achieving sustainable levels of profitability,” he said.

However, he said that challenges remained. “It’s still, however, a tough business, and we are being challenged on the cost front by rising fuel, labour and infrastructure expenses,” he said. Mr de Juniac said “governments need to raise their game” and support the industry.

“To continue to deliver on our full potential, governments need to raise their game — implementing global standards on security, finding a reasonable level of taxation, delivering smarter regulation and building the cost-efficient infrastructure to accommodate growing demand,” he said.

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