Aviation taskforce recommends funding for regional airports

The Taskforce for Aviation Recovery recommends the State provide regional airports with a sum of money per passenger to help the "starved" tourism industry 
Aviation taskforce recommends funding for regional airports
The Irish economy will not survive on a blanket policy of "essential travel", the aviation taskforce said. It also recommends a stimulus package for Cork, Kerry, Shannon, Knock and Donegal airports.

A stimulus package is needed for each of Cork, Shannon, Knock, Kerry and Donegal airports, the aviation taskforce set up by the Government has recommended.

The taskforce claimed the Irish economy will not survive while tourism is “starved” on domestic holidays alone.

The Taskforce for Aviation Recovery, in its final report, also called for the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) to be extended until June 2021, with a review if the economy recovers before that date.

Government should ensure that a "sizeable amount of funding" is drawn down for the sector from the EU’s €750 billion recovery plan, the taskforce said.

Isolation from the continent and the risk of that being exacerbated by an unfavourable Brexit outcome needed serious consideration, the report said.

In relation to airports, the taskforce said the State should directly provide the regional airports with a sum of money per passenger.

This would be used to stimulate traffic by reducing airport charges for airlines and restoring passenger numbers to the regions, the taskforce made up of tourism, business, aviation and academic figures said.

Airlines should continue to pay all airport and air navigation charges relating to Dublin, but the Government “should provide a rebate directly to the airlines of all Dublin Airport charges and air navigation charges as paid by the airlines”.

A stimulus package for regional airports would reduce airport charges for airlines while restoring passenger numbers, according to the task force. Picture: Brian Lawless
A stimulus package for regional airports would reduce airport charges for airlines while restoring passenger numbers, according to the task force. Picture: Brian Lawless

These schemes would represent State Aid and it would have to be notified to the European Commission for approval in accordance with State Aid Rules.

The report said aviation supports upwards of 140,000 jobs in the Irish economy, almost 40,000 of which are direct employment by the sector, but the risk of bankruptcies looms across the sector.

There is a need for low interest credit and loan guarantees in the short-to-medium term, the report said. 

Cork Airport managing director Niall McCarthy welcomed the report, saying: “Cork Airport looks forward to engaging with the Department of Transport in its implementation.

“An appropriate financial support mechanism is critical to support the recovery of Irish aviation."

Niall MacCarthy, the managing director of Cork Airport said before the Covid-19 outbreak, Cork Airport was the fastest growing airport in Ireland in 2019 with 8% growth.

"In addition, we had grown a further 6% in January-February 2020.

"Since Covid-19, passenger numbers have declined by 95% versus the same period last year.

"The impact of Covid-19 has been really devastating on the world and Irish aviation sector not least Cork Airport.

"We now expect passenger numbers to decline by almost 2 million passengers in comparison to what we forecast for 2020.

"In that context, Cork Airport strongly welcomes the Taskforce for Aviation Recovery Report published today and we look forward to engaging with the Department of Transport in its implementation."

He said an appropriate financial support mechanism is now critical to support the recovery of Irish aviation in tandem with the policy recommendations.

Shannon Airport management called for the recommendations to be implemented urgently.

Shannon Group CEO and taskforce member, Mary Considine, said: “We now need to see the speedy implementation of the report to help rebuild our regional and national economy."

Aer Lingus welcomed the taskforce findings but criticised travel restrictions in place in Ireland.

Government criteria on movement appears even more restrictive than that recommended by the EU, the airline said.

"Ireland has failed to act upon the European Commission’s request to Member States to lift all border restrictions to allow free movement of people within the Union by June 15. 

"Government policy therefore appears to be shifting towards a Covid-19 elimination strategy, rather than one of containment and economic co-existence with the virus.

"The full economic consequences of such a shift in policy and of Ireland being 'closed for business would be profound," the airline said.

- Additional reporting Eoin English

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