Cork Airport is to take advantage of reduced flight numbers, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, to bring forward plans to refurbish and resurface its main runway next year.
An accelerated tender process has begun in order to have a contractor in place and on-site by next July with the work to be carried out in the following months and into 2022.
The airport has been severely impacted by global travel restrictions, with passenger traffic down 91% compared to 2019 and with more than half of airlines withdrawing their services, including Ryanair.
Despite positive news on vaccine development, aviation experts predict that in 2021 there will only be a slight improvement in flight numbers and that airlines will continue to make losses until at least the fourth quarter of next year.
The DAA, which operates Cork and Dublin airports, now plans to take advantage of the reduced flight numbers to upgrade the runway.
Runway 16/34, which is 2km long, is the second-busiest in the country by passenger number, after Dublin. It was built when the airport opened, in 1961, and extended by 300m to the north in 1991.
The runway is coming to the end of its life and the upgrade, along with new electrical works and a power substation, is likely to cost tens of millions.
The airport will remain open during the works, with a reduced window for operations.
The upgrade will be the single-biggest construction project, and the biggest investment, by daa at Cork Airport since the opening of the new terminal building in 2006.
The airport is also upgrading its hold-baggage screening system, which will cost €8m.
The daa is taking a strategic view to invest during the downturn, in the long-term interest of the economy. It believes Cork Airport's connectivity will play a key role in helping the recovery from the current crisis.
The Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the runway refurbishment is a vital investment to ensure it plays its part in Ireland’s economic recovery.
“Although air travel has been impacted greatly in the wake of Covid-19 global restrictions, the skies will re-open and post-Brexit, Ireland will hopefully grow its position as a global business and tourism hub," he said.
“I’m pleased to see progress on this issue and hope work can begin early next year on what is an important project for Cork Airport. The jobs this investment will bring will also be a very welcome boost to the construction industry and the local economy.”
Last week, the International Air Transport Association issued a revised outlook for the industry globally, predicting that deep losses will continue into 2021. Passenger numbers are expected to grow to 2.8bn, which is a billion more than 2020, but still 1.7bn short of 2019.