He’s now head of asset care at a burgeoning Cork Airport on the cusp of a new era involving transatlantic flights and increased European destinations — but Bishopstown native Bill Daly can remember it like yesterday when horses grazed freely and apples fell from the trees in the airport’s orchards.
He could have followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by joining the gardaí but as fate would have it, a job in retail came up involving Cork Airport when he was a young man returning from Australia in 1991.
“The airport got the contract for duty-free shopping on the Cork-Swansea ferry and I went on as a manager on behalf of Cork Airport.
“It went very well. There was an opportunity to come in and work in the airport on the retail side from that. It was a huge call for me at the time to make because I had been focused on the gardaí all my life. It looked like Cork Airport was going to be a good employer with great growth. You could see the opportunities coming. It was on the cusp of something,” he said.
The airport was managed in 1991 by the legendary Barry Roche, a man with incredible vision and passion for the region, according to Bill.
“He was absolutely dedicated to the airport. Cork Airport was so unique when I joined. It had its brand of “small airport with a big heart” — that struck with the region which always had great support for the airport.
“He very much a visionary on where he saw the growth markets, what he pursued and things he got going. Equally on site, he was very conscious of creating a homely atmosphere. We had fires and fish farms to greet passengers. We had an orchard in the middle of the car park, horses running around in paddocks. Everyone talked of the great welcome,” said Bill.
As the region prospered, the airport followed. While always trying to maintain the homely feel, it was recognised that things were changing at a rapid rate.
“Queues in the old terminal were getting bigger; the orchard and horses went. It was really just about managing growth. The whole focus was keeping the business going and start moving on the new terminal. It was like a village back then and I like to think that feel is the same now,” he said.
As head of asset care, which looks after all airport infrastructure, there was no bigger project than the new terminal for Bill Daly.
“The old building had an extension in 1994, and when we did that extension, we anticipated that it would keep us going until 2013 when we would hit over 1m passengers.
“Due to phenomenal growth in traffic all of a sudden, by 2003 we were at over 2m passengers. I was on the project from 2001 to 2006.
“We started bringing in all the stakeholders such as Aer Lingus, when it was a site, to get them familiar with things. That was a huge thing for us. It’s very important when you talk about Cork Airport that you realise it was not just a new terminal. Everything from the gate in had been changed.
“We had single-carriageway coming in, that’s all changed. We had new roads, new surface car parking, a new multi-storey car park. All the services underground; everything was upgraded. The transition was a really challenging one.”
The development of the business park, local hotels, and coming through the turbulent years post-global financial crash has meant Bill Daly and the staff have never stood still. “It’s important to recognise the staff sacrifices made. We looked at every part of our business and where we could find greater efficiency. Staff took paycuts, it was very difficult. This wonderful staff has been at the fore of things like reducing energy by 44%. This team of around 230 people is a family, one to be proud of. Now we are on the cusp of what could be another game-changer.”
Those game-changing elements are transatlantic flights and the upgrade of the Dunkettle interchange.
“One of the significant events for Cork Airport was the Jack Lynch Tunnel. It significantly opened the market for us. The Dunkettle proposal is absolutely a potential game changer. It widens the catchment area. One of the unique things about Cork is that parking is within walking distance to the terminal. We want to retain that as much as we can, the ease of movement.
“On the passenger traffic front, we’re trying to create a better balance between incoming and outgoing. We’d like to believe with Wow Air and Norwegian that incoming traffic will be increased. There has been great interest in the US and Canada. We’re incredibly optimistic about it,” he said.
Cork Airport’s new terminal can be extended at either gable end, freeing up another 100-plus acres for more economic development.
“If you go back to early 1990s and said we’d have a business park and hotels and a new terminal, would you have believed it? Dream big,” he said.