No State funding lifeline for Cork Airport

Paschal Donohoe: Concern at passenger numbers.

The Government has refused to give any lifeline of exchequer funding to Cork Airport and said it is up to airport management and DAA to reverse plummeting passenger numbers.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe has also ruled out any possibility of the airport being given separation — as given to Shannon Airport — for the foreseeable future.

Government sources have said Mr Donohoe is already coming under pressure from Cork-based ministers and TDs to find some form of funding source for Cork Airport and stabilise the declining passenger numbers — especially considering the favourable terms that Shannon has enjoyed.

Earlier this month, in the face of a 5.1% decline in passenger numbers last year, DAA chairman Pádraig Ó Ríordáin told the Oireachtas transport committee the Government should consider subsidising the Cork- Dublin air route through a Public Service Obligation (PSO) payment.

Mr Ó Ríordáin also said Cork Airport was at a disadvantage compared to other airports, pointing out that, during the separation of Shannon Airport from DAA (formerly Dublin Airport Authority), Shannon had €100m in debts written off and now had properties that generated substantial rent.

He also said that when assets were transferred from DAA to Shannon, they were written down very substantially by the new company, meaning a lower depreciation charge. He said this freed up Shannon to give deals that Cork was unable to do.

He said Kerry Airport enjoyed direct State support and had the advantage of direct State subsidy of certain airlines flying there on the basis of a public service obligation contract.

Through a parliamentary question, Fianna Fáil leader and Cork TD Micheál Martin asked Mr Donohoe if he was prepared to sanction a route development fund for Cork, for his views on the continuous decline in passenger numbers, if he would reconsider establishing the Cork Airport Authority, and about what the draft national aviation plan would do for Cork.

Mr Donohoe said he was “well aware and concerned” at the continuing decline in passenger numbers. However, he said the National Aviation Policy, currently being finalised “will make clear that it is a matter for the airport and DAA to stabilise and grow traffic and that it remains Government policy that exchequer funding is not provided to the State airports”.

His department also ruled out a PSO for the Cork- Dublin route, saying the availability of other forms of transport, such as rail and road, which could facilitate the journey in less than three hours, made it impossible to introduce the PSO.

Mr Donohoe said the State Airports (Shannon Group) Act 2014 provides for the dissolution of the Cork Airport Authority (CAA) and that process is under way.

“While the act also provides for the re-establishment of CAA if separation is decided on by Government at a future date, there are no plans to revisit that policy at this time,” he said.

Mr Martin said Mr Donohoe’s position was not acceptable “because the minister did intervene in creating a new situation in Shannon”.

“A new mechanism was created there to ensure sustainability in Shannon Airport,” said Mr Martin. “That is fine for Shannon but he needs to acknowledge now that there isn’t a level playing field.

“What people have been putting forward in the region is that a route development fund would, for example, level up the playing field and give Cork Airport some chance to compete in terms of funding new routes.”

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