Update: Minister of State for Training and Skills John Halligan has denied that the Government decision to allocate €5m of Exchequer funding to Waterford Airport was “parish pump politics.”
The decision faced criticism because the facility that has not had any commercial flights since 2016.
Waterford Airport is planning a €12m runway extension that will enable it to cater for larger aircraft. A statement from the department said the remaining cost of the project would be met by private investor and local authority interests that have committed to funding €5m and €2m respectively in return for an equity shareholding in the airport.
Among the private investors are Dawn Meats Group, Glanbia Plc and Coolmore Stud. The local authorities involved are Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford.
Mr Halligan told RTE radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that the south-east deserved the same infrastructure as the rest of the country.
“I genuinely think that the spin-off exceeds the €5m investment (by the Government).”
He paid tribute to the Minister for Transport Shane Ross who had met all the interested parties.
When asked how much Glanbia is specifically contributing to the project, Mr Halligan said that he did not know, but that the company had been advocating for some time for a runway extension.
The airport will be viable, he said, because the investors had completed assessments.
In the last year that Waterford airport did have commercial flights it recorded passenger numbers of 13,511, fewer than the Connemara Airport in Inverin, Co Galway which caters for people travelling to and from the Aran Islands and carried 21,345 passengers in the same year.
The business will be there once jets can land, he added. “I’m absolutely convinced that the investors would have done their assessments.”
In response to a question about air travel and climate change, Mr Halligan said it would be “delusional” to suggest that people would not travel by air in the future.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have no alternative. We need to be practical about this. We are not going to be able to prohibit air travel.”
Mr Halligan said that the Taoiseach supported the Waterford Airport investment and had visited the city where he met with the Chamber of Commerce and local business representatives. “He listened to what they had to say.”
In response to the ‘parish pump politics’ allegation, the Minister said he would love to be able to say “I got this because I’m a Minister,” but that was not the case.
“Look to the private investors. The spin-offs will far exceed the €5m investment.”
The Transport Minister Shane Ross has awarded €5m to an airport that does not operate any commercial flights.
Waterford Regional Airport has not had a single passenger jet land or take off in the last three years.
The Department of Transport said the €5m will go towards a €12m runway extension at the airport with the remaining cost to be met by private investors and local authorities who have committed to funding €5m and €2m respectively, in return for an equity shareholding in Waterford Airport.
Minister Ross said the funding represents a 40% investment with the remaining funding being provided by private investors and local authorities.
The Transport Minister said it is very important for regional policy that the airport is re-opened, and the funding comes with conditions.
Mr Ross said: "We looked at this very, very closely and I decided that there are risks involved in this, but the fact of the matter is the Government is only putting in 40% and private investors and local authorities are absolutely convinced, putting their money on the line.
"It's very important for regional policy that Waterford Airport is re-opened, we think it's got a really good chance of success."
According to the Irish Independent, the Department of Public Expenditure advised against the allocation, suggesting it is unjustified.
The Department of Transport was told that additional funding for the airport must come from within the existing transport budget.
John Halligan, who is Mr Ross’s Independent Alliance colleague and holds a Dáil seat in the constituency, said: “If people want to say it’s parish-pump politics, I don’t care. It’s a big hit for the south-east.”
The Department said: "Among the private investors who have shown a willingness to commit time, money and expertise to this project are Conor McCarthy (Leadmore Investment Company), Noel Frisby, Dawn Meats Group, Glanbia plc, Coolmore Stud, Stafford Wholesale Ltd. The local authorities involved are Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford."
The runway, when extended from its existing length of 1,433 metres to 2,280 metres, will be able to accommodate large commercial passenger aircraft such as Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s.
The Minister said "the airport’s proposal is fully aligned with the commitment in Project Ireland 2040 to support the dispersal of economic growth throughout all the regions".
He added that he was "optimistic about the potential upside of the proposal and was particularly struck by the commitment of the private sector investors to commit not just funding but their business expertise and experience to driving the airport forward".
There are a number of conditions attached to the €5m, including the airport being able to demonstrate that the extension can be delivered for €12m, and it will only be paid when all upgrade works are completed and the runway is confirmed to be ready for service by the Irish Aviation Authority.
Additional reporting by Digital Desk