Cork County Council calls for major push to rid airport of €113m debt

Cork County Council hopes to co-ordinate a major push to convince the transport minister and Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) to cut a deal with Cork Airport on its likely independence and to ease crippling debt.

Businesses and politicians are concerned about a drop in passengers and a continuing €113m debt at the airport.

The council is seeking to have a director of the airport board address a meeting in County Hall in an effort to decide what pressure can be applied to the Government.

County mayor Cllr Alan Coleman said it was vitally important to galvanise political and business interests to ensure its recovery.

Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) said the airport had lost several routes operated by Aer Lingus and Ryanair while, in the past 18 months, Wizz Air had also pulled its Irish hub services from Cork.

“From a peak of 3.25m passengers in 2008, Cork Airport dropped to 2.1m last year. The loss of the Cork-Dublin route several years ago made up about 500,000 in those figures,” said Cllr Hayes.

“The crux of the problem is Cork is not competing on a level playing field, with Shannon especially. As Cork is still servicing a €113m debt associated with the construction of its terminal building, management say they can’t afford to offer the same route incentive supports to airlines on offer elsewhere.”

Since gaining its independence from the DAA, Shannon has been able to offer deals which allow airlines to operate effectively free of landing fees, he said.

Cork, however, saw its overall passenger numbers slump nearly 5% last year, with July figures down almost 6%.

“That compares to a 15% increase in passenger figures at Shannon for the first six months of 2014,” he said.

“Figures released show numbers in Cork were down 125,000 last year.”

He said if the council was serious about tourism promotion, it needed to ensure the airport was a viable component of that goal.

“All of this positive action to promote the county will be lost if the Government and DAA don’t view Cork Airport as a strategic part of the infrastructure and rid it of the €113m debt and allow it to flourish and compete with the other national airports on a level playing field.”

The DAA, meanwhile, is likely to see its profits jump 12% to €180m for 2014, according to ratings agency Standard & Poor’s.

“Now is their opportunity to take the millstone of debt from around the neck of Cork Airport,” said Cllr Hayes.

The councillor’s pleas for the Government to act came after Cork Chamber called for the repayment of the debt to be parked for a decade to allow the airport to stabilise and compete for business.

Cllr Sean O Donnabhain (FF) said Cork was going backwards while Shannon surged ahead. He said major companies such as EMC and VM Ware were consistently complaining about a lack of connectivity and this was damaging the region’s industrial prospects.

Cllr Michael Hegarty (FG) suggested a meeting with airport officials. It was agreed the council would contact the airport and get business leaders onboard in a lobbying campaign.

Meanwhile, Bantry-based Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) said the loss of the Cork-Dublin route continues to have a knock-on effect because many tourists coming into Cork were not travelling to the West Cork region— which was highly dependent on revenue from visitors.

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