Shannon, now an independent, state-owned entity, has struck a “confidential” airport charge deal with Ryanair which the airline has failed to replicate at Cork, which is under the control of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA).
Speaking at Shannon where the airline celebrated carrying its 13 millionth customer at the airport since April, 2000, Mr O’Leary said: “Cork Airport needs to be more competitive if they are to share in the growth that Shannon is certainly winning.”
The turnaround in Shannon Airport’s fortunes since it was given independence from DAA control in January 2013 has continued, with passenger figures set to hit more than 1.7 million for 2014.
From running up losses of about €8m a year under the DAA regime, Shannon is set to record a profit of about €300,000 this year, up from €145,000 last year.
Shannon’s traffic slumped from 2.5 million passengers in 2009, to 1.39 million in 2012, when the Government decided to free it from DAA control.
The big turnaround has come about from new deals which the Shannon Airport group, under chief executive Neil Pakey, has struck with Ryanair. Mr O’Leary lauded Finance Minister Michael Noonan for scrapping the travel tax last April.
“The repeal of this tax has improved Ireland’s competitiveness and attractiveness to visitors from Britain and Continental Europe and Ryanair responded to Minister Noonan’s initiative and will carry over 1.7 million new customers to and from Ireland — with 300,000 of these through Shannon — in the year to March next,” said Mr O’Leary.
He confirmed Ryanair was in talks with Shannon on taking up some routes which Stobart Air will discontinue from January 5.
Stobart Air operates Shannon to Bristol, Birmingham and Edinburgh under the Aer Lingus Regional brand.
On Ryanair services at Cork, Mr O’Leary said costs at Cork Airport are too high, and they were in ongoing discussions with Cork Airport.
Mr O’Leary said: “Lower costs at Shannon has been the key to Shannon winning all this growth this year. Cork needs to do something similar to respond. But it has its own financial difficulties and these cannot be ignored.
“They have a brand new and pretty expensive terminal and a lot of debt and Cork Airport needs to be more competitive if they are to share in the growth that Shannon is certainly winning here. We are in discussions with the DAA and Cork Airport.
“So we are trying, but it’s a very competitive market out there across Europe where many airports are offering us a very low cost- base for growth, and Cork Airport at the moment is not quite competitive enough yet, but I hope that by working with them, they’ll get there. But they have a long way to go to catch up with Shannon.”
“Like a lot of businesses in this country, they probably over-expanded at the wrong time and the market has changed somewhat. Shannon was able to keep its spending down in recent years, partly because Shannon was the poor relation within the DAA.
“It makes it very difficult for Cork to compete with really low-fare growth. We are willing to grow there and we are talking to the DAA and Cork Airport, but there isn’t a simple solution given the state of finances of Cork Airport.”
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary did his own “one for everybody in the audience” Christmas routine at Shannon Airport yesterday to mark his airline’s 13 millionth passenger through the airport since 2000.
That passenger, Piotr Rachuta, was travelling back to Poland on the Shannon-Wroclaw flight with his wife, Marta and daughter Amelia, aged four, following a holiday with relatives in Tralee.
Mr O’Leary called out Mr Rachuta’s name and gave him a gift to mark the occasion.
To the delight of all the passengers, Mr O’Leary then announced free Ryanair flights for everybody on the flight.