Varadkar rules out independent Cork Airport

The transport minister has ruled out giving Cork Airport any form of independence in the near future while it is saddled with large debts.

While the split will allow Shannon Airport to make independent decisions on airport fees and charges, and offer deals to attract new airlines and routes, Cork Airport will remain in the State’s ownership.

The announcement prompted Cork’s business and political leaders to call on Leo Varadkar to move quickly to give Cork Airport a “fighting chance” against the separate Shannon Airport.

They said the board of Cork Airport must be beefed up, and given more power and autonomy, if it is to compete.

The government-commissioned Booz report on options for the future ownership and operation of Cork and Shannon airports recommended that Cork remain within state ownership “but with governance and management arrangements that allow for greater autonomy and a stronger operating position”.

However, Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, said Cork Airport still has to operate under DAA control.

“It is essential that the management and board of the Cork Airport Authority are given the freedom to make commercial decisions in the best interests of Cork Airport and are not subject to excessive control from the DAA,” he said.

“The Booz report provides a roadmap on how to achieve this, and the minister now needs to make a statement on how he intends to safeguard the future of Cork Airport.”

Cork Chamber president John Mullins said: “It is imperative that a ‘similar door’ is opened to Cork Airport in the near future to ensure a newly placed governance structure of Cork Airport, conducive to progress in our region is realised.

“The increased autonomy must be meaningful, allowing the airport to set out its own business strategy, maintain stability and attract further routes. In the past greater autonomy for Cork Airport has been mooted but not delivered.”

Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer said the Shannon separation brought increased autonomy for Cork Airport a step closer.

“For almost a decade indecision has plagued Cork Airport, hampering its expansion and development. Now the minister is putting in place a clear plan for the future of the airport, a plan which enables it to grow and benefit Cork and the wider region it serves.”

However, the minister indicated that while the DAA will be renamed in the short-term to reflect the new ownership structures, any issues surrounding the board, or the independence of Cork Airport, will be dealt with in the long-term.

“The difficulty with Cork Airport at the moment is that the debt attached to it is extremely high — much higher than it is in Shannon because of the cost of building the new terminal there,” said Mr Varadkar.

“That debt has to be paid down first before we can look at separating Cork.

“There aren’t enough passengers using Cork to pay down that debt. What will happen over time is that passengers flying in and out of Dublin will pay down that debt. And when the debt is paid down we can then look at the separation for Cork. But that’s not something that is on the short-term agenda.”

The name and costs associated with the restructuring of the airports have yet to be decided, but costs will be borne by the company and not the taxpayer, he said.


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