O’Leary: State should pull out of airports

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has called on the Government to dispose of all state-ownership of airports in Ireland following its decision to grant independence to Shannon Airport.

The airline boss hit out at his usual targets of the Dublin Airport Authority and the Department of Transport during a speech at a conference organised by the Irish Aviation Authority yesterday.

While welcoming the decision on Shannon, Mr O’Leary criticised the Government initiative, The Gathering as “all fur and no knickers”.

He branded it as “just another PR stunt” which should be renamed “The Grabbing” if the Government did not reverse recently announced fare increases for bus and rail services on top of high airport charges and air travel tax.

Mr O’Leary told 300 delegates that Irish aviation policy was controlled by the “dead hand of Government” which pandered to the views of stakeholders, in particular the DAA.

While he praised the decision to deregulate airlines, he insisted a similar policy should be applied to airports and other transport services.

In contrast to DAA-run airports, he said the future of airports in Knock and Kerry was bright.

He urged the Government to sell its 25% share in Aer Lingus as he predicted it was too small to survive under its current ownership structure.

However, Irish Tourist Industry Confederation chief executive Eamonn McKeon, said it would be of more interest if Ryanair sold its 29% interest in Aer Lingus.

Aer Lingus CEO Christoph Müller said the airline had recorded the strongest growth on routes out of Ireland of any carrier over the past five years and it was set to increase its seat capacity on short-haul routes by 10% and transatlantic routes by 15% next year.

In reply to Mr O’Leary’s barbs, Leo Varadkar, the transport minister, said the airline boss needed “a new song to sing”. On his criticism of The Gathering, Mr Varadkar said Ryanair’s position on money-grabbing was always that someone else was ripping you off, while its own fares had risen 16% last year.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday’s conference was the first step in developing a civil aviation policy for Ireland which was set to be published in 2014.

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