The length of Cork Airport’s main runway is not a barrier to growth - proposed reductions in passenger charges at Dublin airport are its biggest threat.
That was the stark warning from airport management last night amid criticism over the failure to deliver on the long-term plan to extend its main runway north by almost 250 metres.
"Charges at Dublin Airport, which are set by the regular (Commission for Aviation Regulation), are a key reference point for Cork and other regional airports and the 20% reduction that the regulator is proposing would have a hugely negative impact on the viability of Cork and its ability to invest for the future," spokesman Kevin Cullinane warned.
“Any effort which limits the ability of our airports to compete internationally and ensure that they are viable, sustainable and profitable businesses capable of meeting the international connectivity needs of Ireland Inc. must be challenged if we are to retain a level playing field.
The warning comes a week after low-fares giant Norwegian announced it is axing all six of its transatlantic routes from Ireland from Sept 15.
Following a lengthy battle for a licence to operate the routes, Norwegian launched Cork Airport’s first scheduled transatlantic service on July 1, 2017 using the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.
But since the global grounding of the aircraft, Norwegian has, since March, been hiring replacement aircraft. It confirmed last week that the routes just aren't viable anymore.
Mr Cullinane said airport management have undertaken “multiple analyses of aircraft type” that can successfully fly direct from Cork to the US east coast and Canada and the Norwegian service was “proof positive” that the airport can support long-haul services without a longer runway.
“Advances in aircraft technology, allowing them to fly further on less fuel, as well as the advent of narrow-bodied aircraft on long-haul routes, have aided our transatlantic ambitions,” he said.
“Once aircraft such as the MAX are certified to fly again and airlines take delivery of the Airbus A321neo, airports such as Cork will feature again in these airlines’ plans. In the meantime, existing aircraft such as the Boeing 757 remain an alternative option to operate transatlantic services from Cork.”
While it is understood that talks have taken place with some airlines, it is virtually certain the airport will be without a transatlantic service next year.
Mr Cullinane also said any decision on a runway extension will have to be subject to a "rigorous and robust" cost-benefit analysis: “Considering Cork Airport receives no Government grant aid or State subsidies, any such investment by our parent company daa would be made solely on a commercial basis."
While the daa plans to invest some €40m in Cork Airport in the immediate future, the ability to sustain this level of investment is uncertain pending the regulator's decision, due next month, he said.