Airport policy to focus on growth, jobs

A new body to oversee the development of the country’s airports is to be set up amid warnings that Dublin is running out of capacity while regional airports face a battle for survival.

The National Aviation Development Forum will be led by the Department of Transport with representatives of the main airports and airlines, the aircraft finance and leasing sector and the Irish Aviation Authority.

Job creation is to be its “key driver” according to the country’s first National Aviation Policy published yesterday after a two-year consultation process.

The document emphasises the strength of the aviation industry, crediting it with contributing more than €4bn to the economy, directly employing 26,000 people and indirectly 16,000 more, while also bolstering the €5.3bn tourism industry.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said the 25.5m passengers who used Irish airports last year was a 7% increase on the previous year and the number was expected to rise further to 33m in the next five years.

However, the document also highlights the challenges facing the sector, in particular the high number of airports — 28 in total [including airfields] — competing in a small country.

“While regional airports retain a role in enabling international access, the development of the interurban road/rail network has reduced their importance for connectivity within Ireland,” the report states.

“As a small, open economy, vulnerable to global economic and political shocks, traffic at our airports is prone to fluctuations, and forecasts must incorporate robust sensitivity analysis.

“Airports are also likely to be impacted by any measures that may be imposed on airlines in the context of initiatives aimed at reducing our overall level of transport emissions.”

However, the minister said he was confident all the airports remained viable and had potential for growth.

“My message in relation to airports is very, very clear. I believe that all of our State and regional airports all have a very important role to play,” he said.

The recently secured agreement with the European Commission to allow government spending on Kerry, Waterford, Knock and Donegal continue for another four years despite EU restrictions on State aid for commercial airports was vital to supporting their development, he added.

In relation to Dublin Airport, the document states that the development of the second runway — planned since 2004 but shelved during the recession — should begin in anticipation of continued growth in traffic.

“The growth under way at Dublin Airport is very substantial. This means that we will need to review the infrastructure that is there at the airport,” Mr Donohoe said.

“Much of that is underway. They’re investing in facilities in relation to location of planes, location of car parks, to make sure the capacity is there but if that growth were to continue in the trend that it is at the moment, there will be a need for a second parallel runway.”

The policy also commits to retaining the three main airports, Dublin, Cork, and Shannon, in State ownership, and it recognises the need to retain and develop tax supports for the aviation leasing industry here which currently leases, registers or manages half of all the aircraft in the world.


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