Cork Airport is on course for 5% passenger growth this year despite feeling the first “chill effects” of Brexit.

As the inaugural flight from Zurich landed at the airport yesterday, airport managing director Niall MacCarthy said they are diversifying away from the UK market and targeting new European and transatlantic routes in a bid to minimise exposure to Brexit.

“We are going to continue all of our routes into Britain but we are opening new markets in places like Switzerland, Iceland, Canada, and in North America whereby we can reduce our exposure to the UK in terms of any chill winds from Brexit,” he said.

Recent CSO figures showed British visitor numbers were down 6.5% between January and March, compared to same period last year. The drop in the value of sterling has made holidays and short breaks here more expensive for British tourists. However, US visitor numbers are up 23% for the same period.

Swiss Air International’s new Cork-Zurich service, the fifth new route announced by the airport’s management team this year, has added 9,000 seats to the airport’s capacity.

Wow Air launched a Cork to Reykjavik service last month, opening up access to 10 cities across North America, and Norwegian will launch its Cork to Boston/Providence service on July 1.

Mr MacCarthy said: “Passengers figures for the first five months are relatively flat — we are marginally ahead, around 1%-2%. But with all the new routes, most of which started in May, we are predicting that the year will end 4%-5% ahead which is very good when you consider that the first chill effects of Brexit are starting to be felt.”

The Swiss ambassador to Ireland, Marie-Claude Meylan, and the newly appointed honorary consul of Switzerland in Cork, Anne-Kristine Kjelsen, were at the airport to welcome almost 170 passengers off the inaugural flight from Zurich which will operate Fridays and Mondays until October 2.

Ms Meylan said there are several ties between the two cities and Cork’s reputation as Ireland’s tech and pharma hub is very alluring for Swiss business visitors.

“But there are also plenty to attract the leisure traveller from both countries,” she said. “Last year saw close to 100,000 visitors from Switzerland to Ireland.

The new route is expected to be used heavily by some of the pharma giants based in Ringaskiddy, including Basel-headquartered Novartis. Switzerland is Ireland’s fifth largest export market.

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