The head of Cork Airport said they are confident of securing a return of a transatlantic route from the airport within the next three years despite the fragile recovery of the global aviation industry.
Niall MacCarthy said there are potentially five or six airlines that could operate routes from Cork to the east coast of the US or Canada and said they remain in discussions with some of them but the key issue will be the market demand for such services.
Prior to the pandemic Norwegian Air operated two flights from Cork to the east coast of the US but these flights ended in 2019. Speaking at the Cork Chamber Business Breakfast event Mr MacCarthy said US airline Delta told them that,pre-pandemic, they were very close to commencing a flight from New York to Cork on a Boeing 757.
"The potential for transatlantic flights out of Cork is good," he said. "The potential candidates to do it would be American Airlines, United, Delta or JetBlue. There is an airline called Breeze, which is a new startup and then in IAG family, you have Aer Lingus and an airline called Level, a low-cost transatlantic operator. So you potentially have five or six who could do it. Now the issue is would they do it? Do they see enough demand and would it be profitable and would they have the right aircraft," Mr MacCarthy said.
He said larger aircraft such as the 787 Dreamliner can land at Cork Airport but airlines would want to be sure the demand is there to fill 300 seats in and out each week.
"So will we get transatlantic back to Cork? Yes. Have we anyone signed up now at the moment? No. We are probably looking at a three-year horizon," he said.
Following a major project to overhaul Cork Airport's main runway, Mr MacCarthy said they were now in a strong position to recover much of traffic and routes lost as a result of the devastating impact the pandemic has had on aviation but that it would take time.
"We are going into next year with our eyes open, but quite optimistic, we think 2022 will be a 1.8 million passenger year out of Cork contrasting with 2.6 million in 2019. So we will recover, if the pandemic stays under control, by 70%."
However, Mr MacCarthy said the current antigen testing regime put in place due to rising Covid numbers was necessary from a public health perspective but is acting as a barrier to restoring passenger number and airlines were now seeing between 25% and 30% no shows on many flights.
"However, if travel restrictions are eased and we get rid of this extra antigen test in time for March, which is the start of the summer season, that we can reach 70% of pre-pandemic levels.