In the face of a 5.1% decline in passenger numbers at the country’s largest terminal last year, Pádraig Ó Ríordáin told the Oireachtas transport committee that Cork Airport needed the support of the entire region, there needed to be marketing support for airlines, and that there was a need to look at public service obligation support for the route between Cork and Dublin.
A flight service between the cities was axed by Ryanair in 2011.
Mr Ó Ríordáin also outlined the advantages Shannon and Kerry airports had over Cork. He pointed out that during the separation of Shannon Airport from DAA (formerly Dublin Airport Authority), Shannon had €100m in debts written off and now had properties that generated substantial rent.
He said when assets were transferred from DAA to Shannon they were written down very substantially by the new company meaning a lower depreciation charge. He said this freed Shannon to give deals that Cork was unable to do.
“Kerry Airport enjoys direct state support and also has the advantage of direct state subsidy of certain airlines flying there on the basis of a public service obligation contract,” he said adding that, in Kerry, certain airlines are directly subsidised by the State via the PSO to the tune of about €270 per passenger. “In contrast to Shannon and Kerry, Cork Airport has no such advantages. We need to focus on Cork as it’s the second largest airport in the State,” said Mr Ó Ríordáin.
He said the decline in traffic at Cork had continued despite the fact that airport charges at Cork have not increased in more than 10 years and were highly competitive.
He also told the committee where he felt growth could be achieved at Cork.
“An airport is like a bus station. It cannot generate traffic on its own. It needs the active support of its region and active marketing to visitors to come to the region. We are perfectly poised to take advantage of this. We have an excellent airport facility in Cork and provide a world-class product in terms of the customer service that we offer to passengers. As a relatively small regional airport, Cork provides exceptional service, with 42 scheduled routes and great connectivity into Heathrow, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle, the three major European hubs.”
He pointed out that only 37% of Cork’s passengers were inbound which, he said was “notably low by international standards”.
“This signals that there is significant potential to for tourism growth into Cork and the wider Munster area. But this potential can only be realised by a cohesive and funded regional tourism emphasis on the region, perhaps most obviously in marketing Cork and the region more generally as the start of the Wild Atlantic Way.
“I ask the committee’s support in generating the necessary tourism, policy and other initiatives to improve traffic to and from Cork.”
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group (IAG), will come before the transport committee on Thursday to be questioned on IAG’s Aer Lingus bid.