Passenger numbers will not take off again in Cork without radical plan

There has been much debate in the media in recent weeks about the continuing decline in air traffic at Cork Airport. Much of it argues that full independence from the Dublin Airport Authority is needed to get passenger numbers back to the level of the last decade.

While any moves to give greater autonomy to the airport are to be welcomed, there is strong evidence that the record 3.3m passengers per year during the boom was built on sand.

Firstly, this figure included 500,000 passengers per annum on what was effectively a shuttle service on the Cork-Dublin route, due to intense competition between Ryanair and Aer Arann. Both airlines have long since withdrawn from the route.

The opening of the Cork-Dublin motorway, and the hourly rail service, are making efforts to replace those flights extremely difficult.

Secondly, even during the good years many of the routes were sustained by people making multiple trips abroad every year on city breaks, stag parties, and sun holidays.

Granting Cork its independence isn’t going to restore this trend without a substantial pick-up in the economy.

Cork has also been unfortunate, in that both the Aer Lingus and Ryanair brand names have, between them, secured the vast majority of the short-haul traffic out of the country. There is, therefore, little or no incentive for them to expand at Cork, as any such move will simply dilute their load factors and yields from Dublin. Overseas airlines are understandably reluctant to compete with them for Irish customers, particularly after the experiences of EasyJet, Wizzair, and others. An added difficulty, in an age of online bookings, is that overseas airlines don’t have the brand recognition among the travelling public in this country.

It is true that Shannon’s traffic has risen since it was granted its independednce and there’s no doubt that, by granting it debt-free status, the Government has given it a strong competitive advantage over Cork.

However, Shannon’s passenger levels are still only half of what they were during the boom years.

The vast majority of the new routes it has attracted are already available from Cork. However, the Dublin Airport Authority’s route incentive scheme for Cork has not succeeded and a change of strategy is urgently required.

It’s vital for the entire south-west region that the decline in traffic experienced since 2009 is reversed, but there are no quick-fix solutions.

Cllr Tom O’Driscoll

Members Room

City Hall

Cork

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