The uncertain future for Munster's airports

Government support is needed to aid Munsters airports as they try to recover from the devastating impact of Covid-19
The uncertain future for Munster's airports
Passengers in Cork Airport queuing for the Air France flight to Paris. Services there have resumed but the airport expects passenger numbers to be down two million this year. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In 2018 the air industry contributed €8.9 billion to Ireland's GDP, supported 140,000 jobs and transported 8.8 million overseas tourists.

Two years later it would be difficult to paint a bleaker picture for such an important element of world trade. It was one the first parts of the global economy to be impacted by the spread of the coronavirus and it is increasingly clear it will take the longest time to recover.

With many world governments advising against non-essential travel, as well as non-citizens being barred from entering into foreign countries, it is difficult to see how the industry will recover. airlines have already slashed costs, laying off staff and seeking cust to wages along with receiving supports form Governments worldwide.

Mary Considine, CEO of Shannon Group told the Irish Examiner that Government support is vital to kick start the recovery. File Picture.
Mary Considine, CEO of Shannon Group told the Irish Examiner that Government support is vital to kick start the recovery. File Picture.

The report recommends that a stimulus package be put in place for Shannon, Cork, Kerry, Ireland West (Knock) and Donegal airports to allow them reduce airport charges for airlines.

It also called for funding for essential capital projects and the extension of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme into next year, and liquidity supports for the aviation sector. 

Kevin Cullinane of Cork Airport expects that it will take three to five years before passenger numbers return to their 2019 average. The airport continued to operate during the lockdown. "[We were open] mainly for a couple of flights to and from London, which were needed for getting essential healthcare workers back home that were heeding Ireland's call, and to repatriate people who were trying to get home.

Since July 1, there has been a gradual increase in flights. "We have seen an additional 23 Ryanair services restart, but with very few passengers. Air France also restarted its Paris service.

"We had 2.6 million passengers through Cork last year, which was the fastest-growing airport in the country. We came through January and February, which traditionally are the two quietest months for travel. We were 8% ahead during those two months of this year. We were looking optimistically at a figure of 2.8m passengers through Cork for this year, but now we will be lucky if it resembles 800,000, which would be down two million.

"There are no inbound tourists worth counting at the moment because our business is down by 99% since last March, albeit we are seeing a trickle of improvement from last week. "Although our figures indicate we are only at 2% of the level we would have been at, at the height of July last summer."

Many aviation sector staff across Munster also fear for their jobs. Staff in Cork Airport have already taken a 20% pay cut. Most staff, such as office staff, are only working at 80% capacity, or a four day week.

Mr Cullinane estimates that approximately 750 to 1,000 people will leave Dublin and Cork airport in the coming months. "The sad reality is that less people are needed to run the business in the short term, if it is going to take four to five years to get back to previous passenger levels."

Shannon Airport remained open throughout the pandemic for repatriation, cargo and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) flights.

Giuseppe Russo and Giovanni Tavano leaving on a Ryanair flight to Naples from Cork Airport. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Giuseppe Russo and Giovanni Tavano leaving on a Ryanair flight to Naples from Cork Airport. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

"We are pleased that American Airlines, Delta and Aer Lingus have indicated that they will resume their transatlantic services from Shannon in 2021."

Staff at Shannon Airport recently rejected a deal which would see workers taking a 20% pay cut until 2023. Ms Consideine said they remain in talks with employees and Union representatives on the proposed cost reduction measures.

However, she said investment in the regional airports from central government is key. "The ability of our region to rebuild in the aftermath of the pandemic is reliant on having a strong airport, and it once again highlights the vital need for a strong Government support package to kick-start recovery."

She said the Aviation Recovery Taskforce's final report recognises the significant contribution that airports like Shannon make to the regional and national economy.

"The delivery of this support package can help deliver on the objectives of Project Ireland 2040, to enable the cities and towns in our region and beyond to grow and to enhance their significant potential and make the region a thriving, attractive place to live and to work and into which businesses will invest."

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