Coveney rules out debt deal for Cork Airport

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has ruled out a deal on Cork Airport’s debt despite the impending loss of another service.

The Irish Examiner has learned that the airport is poised to lose its last air freight service in June, prompting criticism from a Fine Gael MEP that the airport was ignored in a government submission to an EU strategic investment fund.

The latest blow came weeks after the airport announced three new routes, to Cardiff, Ibiza and Prague.

However, FedEx, the airport’s last existing freight operator, confirmed it was moving its business to Shannon Airport, which has hoovered up almost 120,000 passengers from Cork through Ryanair route switches in the last 12 months.

Mr Coveney insisted the Government is working hard to help drive growth at Cork Airport. But he said writing off its debt wouldn’t change its competitiveness or its ability to attract new airlines or develop routes.

“We are trying to fix a problem caused by a previous government,” he said.

“Yes, over the last six years, the (passenger) numbers in Cork have been going in the wrong direction.

“We are working hard to change that, as is the airport’s management team.

“My preference a number of years ago, and now, is that Cork would be independent and debt free. But that isn’t possible until we manage and deal with the debt situation over time.

“We need to have a really competitive offering through Cork and the Dublin Airport Authority needs to facilitate that, and if necessary, in my view, pay for it for a short period of time to ensure Cork can get some growth going.”

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Securing commitments on growth out of Cork Airport is also a key part of the Government’s talks with IAG about the potential sale of its share in Aer Lingus, he said.

As the debate rages about the airport’s future, FedEx is axing its four-day-a-week Cork to Charles de Gaulle air freight service from June 1.

A company spokesperson said from June 1, they will transport cargo from Cork to Shannon by truck.

“This will have no impact on the vast majority of our customers,” she said.

“For a very small number of customers this will mean a change in their collection times. This will not affect delivery times.”

A Cork Airport spokesperson said freight represents a very small portion of their business.

But Fianna Fáil Cllr Tom O’Driscoll said airport management has not focussed on growing its cargo business.

“There was a time when we had several flights a week with companies like TNT, UPS and DHL, who have all withdrawn in recent years,” he said. “A better road network is a factor but lack of investment in cargo facilities at Cork Airport is the main reason. It’s just never been prioritised.”

Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune criticised the Government for failing to include Cork Airport in its submissions for a slice of the so-called Juncker Fund — a €315bn fund for strategic investments across Europe.

She said the Government’s initial submission list makes no mention of Cork Airport but includes at least seven submissions for various projects at Shannon Airport, including runway and terminal upgrades.

“Yes, Shannon needs more investment than Cork in its terminal but there are other ancillary services that they could have applied for Cork but didn’t.”

She said the fund could have been used to develop cargo or freight services at the airport.

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