Sean Sherlock, the minister with responsibility for trade promotion and policy, said he has concerns that the draft policy could hamper growth at Cork Airport.
“Any national aviation policy must have a level playing field so that Cork and Shannon can compete for new business but from an equal footing,” he said.
“Quite frankly, if Ryanair, as is their wont, is gaining because of a more favourable landing charge at Shannon, which is fine for the airline, it is unsustainable in the longer term. This dynamic must be examined in the context of any new National Aviation Policy.”
His comments came yesterday against the backdrop of mounting concerns over falling passenger numbers and the haemorrhaging of routes out of Cork.
Ryanair has moved several routes from Cork Airport, managed by the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), to an independent Shannon Airport in recent months to benefit from its competitive landing fees structure.
Earlier this week, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary upped the pressure on Cork Airport, calling on the DAA and airport managers to strike a landing fees deal with his airline.
However, debt-saddled Cork, which despite making an operational profit still has to pay interest on the loan associated with its terminal building, insists it can’t compete on a level playing field.
Backing Cork Chamber’s stance, Mr Sherlock said the draft aviation policy shows “significantly more substantial initiatives” proposed for Shannon than for Cork.
“There have been public comments about the ownership issue of the airport but I believe the issue is more about growing the number of routes and passengers.
“Steps can be taken and issues addressed in the short to medium term that would have a lasting positive impact on Cork Airport. The issue is not about pitting airports against each other — rather it is ensuring the aviation system in Munster is healthy and viable.”
He said he is happy that Cork Airport management have some exciting plans in place over the next two to three years.
“But I am concerned that the potential of Cork Airport, and the Cork region, may not be met in the draft National Aviation Policy framework,” he said.
“Support should be afforded to Cork Airport to market itself more effectively as a regional hub and we also need more clarity as to whether Cork Airport is being put at a disadvantage relative to other airports because of the charges, or lack thereof, that exist for certain airlines.
He has raised his concerns directly with Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe.
Shannon traffic slumped from 2.5m passengers in 2009, to 1.39m in 2012, when the government decided to give it independence. Passenger figures are set to top 1.7m this year. However, Cork’s figures have plummeted from 3.25m in 2008, to around 2.1m this year.
It is understood that the draft aviation policy is due to be finalised before the end of the year.