Senior management outlined the challenges facing the country’s second largest airport during a meeting with Paschal Donohoe, the transport minister, yesterday.
The airport has seen its traffic fall by 5%, or about 77,000 passengers, so far this year. Aer Lingus axed the Cork Brussels route two weeks ago, and Ryanair’s transfer of routes to a debt-free and independent Shannon Airport has resulted in the loss of around 160,000 passengers.
Mr Donohoe was told the airport, which is still under the control of the Dublin Airport Authority and still serving a €100m debt associated with the construction of its terminal building, is still making an operational profit, despite competing on an unlevel playing field.
Securing independence and dealing with the debt issue are crucial if it is to revive its fortunes, he was told.
He was also told that Cork Airport should be designated as the convention and conference gateway for business tourism in the south of Ireland before the development of the city’s convention centre, and as the principal international gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way.
Mr Donohoe was not available for comment last night, but Cork Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer said the debt issue will have to examined closely.
He accepted that the Government’s draft national aviation policy does not prioritise or fully reflect the strategic importance of Cork Airport.
He also criticised Ryanair for transferring routes to Shannon, accusing it of not taking full advantage in Cork of the Government’s decision to scrap the airport travel tax.
He said: “Airlines have an obligation following on from the government decision to scrap the travel tax, to grow and develop routes, not just transfer flights and business from one airport to another.”
Meanwhile, Stobart Air, which is considering re-introducing a Cork Dublin service next April, has asked the region’s business community to prove they would support it. Work is under way to prove that demand, with some larger firms being asked for letters of commitment to buy tickets.
The airline could make a decision next month which could see the service launching in April — served by a 48-seater aircraft — with return seats from €99.