It is tempting to be negative about the number of destinations served by Cork Airport due to its focus on short-haul routes, but a deeper analysis shows that in fact a more complex but positive scenario exists.
A new route announced last week that connects Cork Airport and Amsterdam needs to be analysed beyond the point-to-point service itself. It forms part of a developing range of services that hook Cork into key European hubs that offer increased long haul options to business and tourism alike.
KLM is providing the aircraft for daily services from next spring. The Dutch national carrier operates a global hub in Amsterdam that connects to a wide set of destinations globally. It is also part of the Air France-KLM group which has a separate hub in Paris.
During 2020 Air France will offer a twice daily service from Cork to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport which links with another wave of global long haul flights. Outside of these, Aer Lingus provides multiple daily connections to Heathrow where British Airways, also part of IAG, runs a global long haul carrier.
These three hubs — in London, Paris and Amsterdam — provide a very large number of long haul connections for tourists or business people who want to fly in and out of Cork. This is an important piece of transport infrastructure that is critical to the long term development of the city and region as it fights to attract more economic activity.
Given these facts, how should Cork airport best prepare itself to do well commercially while helping grow the economy in Munster?
I would suggest a number of initiatives are worthy of consideration. Firstly, the airport’s relative size plays into a passenger experience that can major on convenience and hassle-free time in an airport.
Fast times from leaving an aeroplane to leaving the terminal and vice versa are virtues passengers value.
So too are good retail and dining experiences while in the facility. Both should be focus points for improvement.
Secondly, striving to connect Cork with both Frankfurt and Madrid all year round would help the hub link strategy. Both of these airports provide connections to other parts of the world — for example, Latin America via Madrid — that complement those through Paris, Amsterdam and London.
Thirdly, continue the hunt for a direct service between Cork and the US. I believe the best chance of that lies with Aer Lingus as it takes delivery of more Airbus A321LR aircraft.
These are capable of operating long haul from Cork’s runway and then switching to short-haul routes. Finding a way that balances frequency with crew management and demand is the challenge for both airport and airline alike.
If we imagine what the Munster economy could look like in 20 years time it should include a number of already present US multinational companies that expand their footprints.
Alongside these, it must be hoped that a new generation of multinationals emerge from not just the US but from other powerhouse economies including China and India too.
Augmenting these hopefully will be a set of Irish-owned companies that are expanding their international reach. Around all of that, a larger and more lucrative tourism industry will also attract increased visitor numbers.
To meet such potential the city’s airport will have to be much busier.
Its challenge is to achieve that in a way that adds to profits while retaining the benefits of being a regional airport so passengers can have a low stress experience.
As part of that evolution, the local community, too, must play its role by opting for the local airport as its preferred gateway to both private and business travel.
A busy airport usually means a busy local economy with plenty of jobs.