Mistake to write off airport debt: TD

A TD who does not believe the Government should wipe the debt at Cork Airport has organised a round-table conference on its future.

Clonakilty-based Fine Gael TD Jim Daly is organised a seminar at Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa on March 26.

The event will also be attended by Fáilte Ireland executives along with Cork County Council officials, airport management and representatives from the Irish Hotels’ Federation. Transport and Tourism Minister Paschal Donohue will also attend.

Speaking ahead of the event, he explained his reasons for opposing the lifting of the debt as the ultimate solution to the airport’s problems.

Trying to increase passenger traffic and air routes is the challenge, he said.

“I believe lifting the current debt of over €100m is not the solution,” said Mr Daly.

“The Government writing a blank cheque for over €100m could potentially leave Cork Airport standing still.

“I would prefer to see the Government investing €1m towards marketing new routes for the airport and thus allowing the airport to grow and pay back its debt from the increased revenue.”

Under his estimation, the cost of marketing a new route is approximately €70,000 and, if successful, the process could be a way of helping the airport to financial sustainability.

Mr Daly, in his first term in Dail Éireann, made his comments just days after new routes were announced at the embattled airport.

In recent years, Cork Airport has seen passenger numbers plummet from a peak of 3.25m people in 2008 to 2.1m last year.

Confirmation of several recent new routes, the Flybe from Cork to Cardiff and CSA Czech Airlines from Cork to Prague and Ibiza, will further develop the region’s connectivity.

Apart from significant drops in passengers, the airport has also suffered from numerous axing of routes. The loss of the Cork-Dublin route, in particular, which used to carry around 500,000 people a year remains a sore point.

Late last year, Aer Lingus, confirmed it would be stopping its Cork-Lisbon and Cork-Nice routes this summer.

Mr Daly said he believes better promotion and marketing of the West Cork region and the Wild Atlantic Way could play a significant role in the airport’s marketing strategy for attracting new tourists.

“The focus of this conference will be to develop cross agency support and co-operation to sell West Cork to international tourists,” he said.

However, he said his daytime conference will examine strengthening national policy to support and promote Cork Airport.

Mr Daly said he would be shortly meeting with the airport’s managing director, Niall McCarthy, and marketing manager, Kevin Cullinane, to finalise matters.

Meanwhile, Cork County Council will today discuss the airport’s problems as officials signalled they received a reply from the Dublin Airport Authority regarding local calls to write-off the crippling debt.

While Cork passenger numbers have slumped, Shannon has enjoyed a slight increase, dealing with 1.4m people last year.

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