Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has played down suggestions that projected numbers for Shannon Airport are “fanciful”.
Defending Government plans to separate Shannon from the Dublin Airport Authority, Mr Varadkar said doing nothing would lead only to the airport’s decline.
He was speaking in the Dáil as he brought forward an order setting Dec 31 as the day for separation of Shannon from the DAA.
Passenger numbers peaked at 3.6m in Shannon in 2007, when the boom was at its height.
The new business plan for the separated Shannon envisages passenger numbers growing from 1.5m this year to 2.5m by 2012.
“I do not deny that it will be a challenge to meet these targets, but they are achievable,” said Mr Varadkar.
“Moreover, the alternative of accepting that passenger numbers at Shannon cannot be improved is much worse because that would spell the continued decline of the airport.
“In that eventuality, we would soon be seeking to downgrade or even wind down the structures at Shannon. That is not the future I want for the Shannon area.”
Timmy Dooley, Fianna Fáil TD for Clare, said much of the same “positivity” had emanated from the transport minister in place in 2004, “who believed a bright new dawn existed for Shannon Airport in a separated environment”.
“Others in cabinet at the time had serious concerns about the potential separation and the impact that would have on both Cork and Shannon airports,” said Mr Dooley.
He said that, as a result, the then cabinet insisted separation would not occur until viable business plans were in place for Dublin, Cork, and Shannon.
“Unfortunately, during the very best of a boom, it was not possible to develop viable business plans at Cork and Shannon with an independent framework in place,” he said.
For that reason, he expressed scepticism this Government could devise a plan that would work in the current economic climate.
“I accept the separation proposal being put forward by the Government now is somewhat different,” he said. “However, it seems to make assumptions based on a business plan that I do not believe is sustainable.
“It is foolhardy to move on separation without putting in place some kind of secure backstop, in terms of a source of revenue for the airport, at a time when this country is going through a very difficult financial crisis.”
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