In his first public comments on the future of the airports since receiving the Booz consultants’ report on the airports last month, Mr Varadkar added “but that is not to say that there cannot be private sector investment and involvement in the airports in a way that is not the case currently”.
However, uncertainty over the future of the airports is to continue for a number of more months. This follows Mr Varadkar confirming that he is to engage with unions and potential investors before making a final decision on the future of the airports.
Mr Varadkar had initially signalled that a decision would be made early this year after confirming his intention to bring a memo to Government in January. However, he has now said the memo to be brought before Government shortly will be a “memo for information” with a further “memo for decision” to be presented later this year.
Mr Varadkar received the report from Booz Consultants on the various options for the airports’ ownership structure last month. He has told the Dáil: “When it comes to time-scale, I need to spend a little moretime in consultations and discussions. I have not yet had a proper chance to talk to the unions, for example, some of the stakeholders in the various regions and some of the businesses that are interested in investing.
“Given that any decision to proceed with separation could require legislation, getting it all done this year is ambitious but possible.”
The minister said that inevitably, over time, Cork Airport’s debt “will have to be paid off by passengers using Dublin Airport”.
“Cork is working very well as an airport but the difficulty there is the enormous debt that has arisen from the new terminal which it will not be able to pay off on its own.
Mr Varadkar added: “Shannon Airport has a great future as a passenger airport but also as one which is concerned with avionics and aero-industry but the status quo there is not working and the airport is in decline, which is why we need to have a change of policy in that regard.”
It is understood that Booz has recommended that Shannon Airport be separated from the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) and placed into a separate corporate structure with a remit to expand its activities beyond passenger travel. However, Booz also concluded that debts associated with Cork Airport meant it should remain with the DAA for the immediate future, although with greater autonomy.
Booz has ruled out privatising either airport.