By Pádraig Hoare
The Government is “slow-walking” a plan for the future of Waterford Airport, a symptom of ignoring the south-east economically in favour of more politically connected regions.
That was the reaction of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) lecturer Ray Griffin, as Transport Minister Shane Ross said he needed more assurances from Waterford Airport management on potential private investment before the Government would consider its future.
Mr Ross said, in response to Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler, that he was “fully considering” a review on the airport’s future, completed by EY.
Waterford Airport management has submitted a proposal to extend the runway, which it says would considerably enhance the airport’s commercial appeal and attract new carriers.
The airport has been without any commercial flights since mid-2016. In 2012, it had more than 77,000 passengers, but numbers dropped significantly in the years after.
It carried only 13,500 passengers in 2016. By contrast, Donegal Airport carried more than three times that number in 2016 with 44,100, according to CSO figures.
Waterford Airport chief executive Desmond O’Flynn stepped down in January.
Proposed Waterford routes to Luton, Birmingham, and Manchester by Aer Southeast, announced last year, failed to materialise after the airline failed to secure the required licence.
Mr Ross said: “The runway extension proposal was received during the review process and was duly incorporated into the consideration of options by EY. The proposal from Waterford Airport is dependent on securing the necessary finance from private investors, local authorities as well as significant capital funding support from the Exchequer.
“I have also sought some additional information and assurances from the airport in respect of potential investors and jet carriers.
“When I have fully considered the EY review, along with any additional information provided by Waterford Airport, I have undertaken to revert to Government with a memorandum for decision on the matter.”
However, WIT School of Business lecturer Ray Griffin said it was a way for the Government to further ignore Waterford and the South-East. “The Government has been slow-walking the airport plan. The Cabinet will have to withstand the overwhelming representation from Dublin, Cork and Shannon lobbies, something they have shown little interest in ever doing. Despite some soothing speeches, there has been no response to the slower, weaker and halting recovery in the South-East, and the rhetoric has now moved to denying the data,” he said.
Mr Griffin said even “modest investment” would be transformative for the region.
“Despite the analysis suggesting that the modest investment in a jet-capable runway in the south-east will have no impact on Dublin/Cork/Shannon airports passenger numbers and a major impact on tourism and enterprise in the South-East, if I were a gambling man I would not bet on the kindness of the strangers we see at the Cabinet table.”
The region has been “politically cold-shouldered since 2011,” Mr Griffin said, losing a number of existing facilities and not seeing any proportional capital investment compared to other regions.