Niall MacCarthy was speaking as airport leaders from around Europe gathered in Cork for a conference to discuss the fallout of Brexit for regional airports across the continent.
Director general of conference organiser, Airports Continental International Europe, Olivier Jankovec said the “eyes of the regional aviation world” were on Cork ahead of the launch of flights by Norwegian Air to Providence in Rhode Island in July. Mr Jankovec said that as the threat of Brexit loomed, regional airports were looking to see how Cork would perform.
“Cork is at the forefront, it is pioneering in long-haul low-cost flying. The eyes of the regional aviation world are certainly on it.
“Of course the location of Ireland gives it an excellent advantage to develop that market. Cork is a fine example of all the innovation and an airport really fighting its corner when it comes to traffic growth and destinations. The long-haul route will take it one step further,” he said.
While Norwegian will fly to Providence in July, the airline said last month it was unlikely its Boeing 737Max aircraft could currently reach New York from Cork as originally planned.
Despite Norwegian’s revelation, Mr MacCarthy said he was confident an airline would use Cork to fly to New York. “There has been big demand for Cork to New York and I believe we will see it in the near future,” he said.
Boeing’s rival Airbus has already begun flying its A320Neo aircraft, with analysts predicting an airline could fly from an airport like Cork to New York using it.
Mr MacCarthy said Brexit was such a serious threat that aviation and tourism could seriously suffer without free movement of goods and people. He said that equivalency in security and safety standards has to be defined, as well as EU agreements such as Open Skies.
Marketing Ireland’s brand in the UK had to ramp up, while state aid rules had be to fair, he said. Mr MacCarthy said support from all of Munster was crucial if Cork’s US route was to be a success. “Cork Airport is far too large just to serve one county. I am confident that Providence will succeed and Norwegian has done an excellent marketing job. The winter especially will be crucial,” he said.
Ireland South MEP and member of the EU Transport committee Deirdre Clune had told the conference secondary airports in rural Ireland were being “largely ignored”. She said policy focus must be on balancing growth away from Dublin Airport and focusing instead on balanced regional growth to secondary airports.
“Europe’s secondary airports account for over 260m passengers per annum. Air traffic in Europe will nearly double by 2030. That’s a big opportunity for rural Ireland to connect with these people,” she said.