ONLY five Irish international airports will be sustainable into the future and European funding will be vital, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said yesterday.
The airline’s chief executive said as far as he is concerned, only Cork, Shannon, Dublin, Knock and Kerry airports have viable futures.
He was speaking at Kerry Airport during a whistle-stop tour of Dublin, Knock and Kerry airports with the vice-president of the EU Commission, Antonio Tajani, as they campaigned for a Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum next week.
Mr O’Leary said a Yes vote is vital for the future of regional infrastructure, including airports, in Ireland.
And he said Kerry Airport has a better chance of getting funds for a major, planned expansion from the EU than from the Irish Government.
An €18 million grant which had been approved by the Government for expanding facilities at Kerry Airport has been suspended because of the economic downturn.
The money would have been used to provide facilities that would bring the passenger capacity from a current 400,000 to one million per year.
Despite the setback, Mr O’Leary said the airport still has lots of opportunities to grow services, especially on European routes.
But he sounded a warning that the Public Service Obligation (PSO) grants — subsidies to Irish regional airports — will soon be abolished, as recommended by An Bord Snip.
“I’m pessimistic about PSOs which will inevitably be removed by the Government,” he told reporters at Farranfore. “The airports will then have to look to Europe for funding and will be more likely to obtain funds from the regional fund rather than from the Government.”
The PSO grant is used to fund Ryanair’s Kerry/Dublin service and the question of the viability of the service would arise if the grant is withdrawn.
“It will be an issue for Kerry Airport at that stage,” he said.
He strongly attacked the No to Lisbon campaign, describing it as a “coalition of clowns”.
He claimed the referendum was all about the economy and urged the electorate not to be sidetracked by other issues that were being introduced.
Ryanair, which provides flights on four routes in and out of Kerry, is the only airline with scheduled services at the airport.
Without EU funding, Kerry Airport would not have developed, or grown, to become the successful regional gateway it is today, Mr O’Leary said.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved