Dublin Airport’s monopoly is relentless and going unchecked

What should have been a celebration for the regions has been put in the shade by Norwegian revealing its flights to the US from Dublin, writes Alan Kelly TD.

THE announcement by Norwegian Air International that it is to operate three weekly flights to Providence, Rhode Island, in the US was — publically, at least — roundly celebrated by all who campaigned for years for transatlantic services in Cork. Their efforts were, indeed, worthy of a celebration.

On an isolated basis, it’s a great day for Cork. The airport’s first transatlantic services are on the way and they must be maximised for all their worth. But make no mistake about it, this is, regrettably again, Dublin Airport’s day and none of us should be fooled into thinking otherwise.

Even the most ardent of Cork campaigners who lobbied tirelessly and honourably for US regulatory change to achieve this breakthrough must be privately questioning ‘have we become a Trojan Horse’.

The truth will be hard to swallow as, instead of being a day for Cork, it was instead part of the DAA’s relentless march to an all-out and wholly unhealthy monopoly of Irish aviation.

The backdrop to yesterday’s announcement must be explored to fully understand the consequences of this bad good-news day for the regions. In short, Dublin Airport has, like an insatiable beast, been chomping up the Irish aviation market. Since 2012 it has gone from having 81% to almost 86% of the national aviation pie; over the same time Cork has dropped from 10% to just over 6.5%, Shannon from 5.9% to 5.5%, and Knock from 2.9% to just over 2%.

Add into the bargain that Dublin Airport, with the apparent imprimatur of Lord Ross, is on the cusp of having a third terminal and second runway developed. The monopoly is relentless, is at risk of choking our other airports and, based on the evidence of yesterday’s announcement, is going utterly unchecked.

Given the inseparable links between economic development and airport growth in regions, if there’s growth to be got in Ireland, Dublin is going to get it. By hook or by crook.

By dint of that, Simon Coveney’s recent laudable attempts to follow through on the National Planning Framework, that I initiated and tried to introduce balanced regional development, are being utterly and disrespectfully ignored by his Cabinet colleague, whose sole interest is in all matters within The Pale.

Because that’s what it has been. Dublin Airport’s monopolist (it was labelled as such openly at an aviation conference this week) ways have never been more evident than in yesterday’s announcement. For 15 months, since the first Norwegian declaration was made about establishing transatlantic services at Cork, DAA chief executive Kevin Toland — in press releases and even an annual report — celebrated this ‘Cork success’ and Cork success only.

Dublin Airport’s monopoly is relentless and going unchecked

Not even a hint about Dublin. This was to be Cork’s day in the sun and we all, including many at the southern end of my own county who rely on Cork as their premier airport, looked forward to it.

Earlier this week we got our first inkling of the thickening of the plot. Some 15 months after the DAA’s first public utterance, the Irish Examiner broke the news on Monday that Dublin, too, was also in the mix. Little did we know they were stirring the pot all along. If they dare to argue otherwise, I will happily challenge them regarding when they first became aware that they were getting 12 or, indeed, any services.

But, lo and behold, a dirty dozen did land for Dublin, Cork getting just three, even lagging behind Shannon, which is to get four services, which makes it a good day for Shannon, too. The fact it gets two destinations as distinct from just one might surprise Cork interests. The promise is that Cork will get a second service, to the New York area, next year. But why not yesterday, particularly given that this was, after all, only ever about Cork.

It’s not just the numbers that don’t stack up in the way we were told. Back in 2015, in the inaugural DAA press release that got us all giggly in anticipation or Cork’s first service, Toland celebrated the upcoming Cork-Boston, Cork-New York, and Cork-Barcelona services that Norwegian would deliver. No mention of Cork-Providence; it was Cork-Boston. The Cork-Boston and New-York services set to be four to five flights per week.

Dublin Airport’s monopoly is relentless and going unchecked

But why the masquerade? It’s quite simple. A groundswell of political backing had to roar from Ireland into the US for this to happen. Would that be generated for 12 more services to an already booming Dublin Airport? Not a chance. But would it for an inaugural service from Cork? Absolutely, particularly with the political powerbase in Ireland’s second city. It was an ingenious approach. The Trojan Horse.

Remarkably, it took 15 months — yesterday — for us to get the first official reference to Dublin in this mix. So somehow, it crept up on the blind side and swept away double what Cork and Shannon would jointly get.

Worse still, the region that could probably do with these services the most, the north-west, looks on empty handed. It’s wrong-footed the Taoiseach, who gave his support to the campaign. Knock Airport even made a supporting submission. Mayo also has the Minister for Regional Economic Development, Michael Ring — a solid supporter of the regions — on its side and a man who will be equally aggrieved.

The north-west aside, it was most definitely Cork which did the running. But for what? Ultimately, to bring home admittedly some reward… but much less than it deserves. But the big bounty for the efforts around Cork Airport’s transatlantic push was another pot of gold it landed for its greedy parent, Dublin Airport.

This announcement has added to Dublin’s currency and gave a scary forecast of what’s ahead — a growing monopoly that has the potential to suffocate other airports and completely defy efforts to achieve balanced regional development.

The experience is redolent of that classic Father Ted scene when Bishop Brennan gets kicked in the derriere. So incredulous is he that he is left speechless as he is ushered out the door by his assailant.

Many who have really analysed this announcement have been left speechless but if only it were that funny. Someone needs to call out what is really happening here.

Alan Kelly TD is Labour Party spokesman on health, jobs, enterprise, and innovation and vice-chair of the Public Accounts Committee


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