THE decision by the US Department of Transportation to grant a permit to Norwegian Air International to operate a transatlantic Cork-Boston service is the most welcome news that Cork Airport has received in years.
It is a major achievement by local management, in view of the fact that expansion of services continue to be hampered by a €128 million debt and by the control still exercised over its activities by the Dublin Airport Authority.
The country’s second largest airport has seen improving fortunes over the past two years and the go-ahead for trans-atlantic flights will provide a further boost.
If it was released from the DAA stranglehold and if its accumulated debt was written off, it could soar to even greater heights.
Cork Airport services the southwest, one of the most concentrated areas of job and wealth creation in Ireland, and would have even greater scope for expansion if it had independent management.
Cork Airport managing director Niall McCarthy said the decision to grant the permit was “a game changer” for the airport and the southwest region. Allowing it to be run independently would be an even bigger game changer. Cork and its hinterland is the location of the country’s pharmaceutical industry, one of Ireland’s most important IT hubs, home to the country’s only oil refinery and produces 25% of Ireland’s energy, yet uses only 13%.
The southwest is also the jewel in the crown of Irish tourism, which generates 250,000 jobs and revenue of €5 billion annually.
Looked at in a broader context, allowing the airport to be managed fully independently would help the southwest develop as an economic counterbalance to Dublin where almost half of the country’s population live. No other capital city in Europe enjoys such dominance.
Despite this, Cork punches above its weight. A recent EU study shows that workers in the city and county generate almost €105,000 per person every year, more than the €96,000 produced by Dublin workers and even higher than that generated by those in the City of London.
Why then should Cork Airport be held back? The city’s only cabinet minister, Simon Coveney, believes that it is better for it to remain under the control of the DAA but he has never fully explained why. He is also against relieving the airport of its huge debt burden. The former Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe refused point blank to even consider allowing Cork Airport to be run independently, while the position of the current minister, Shane Ross, is unclear.
Even the DAA chairman Pádraig Ó Ríordáin concedes that separation is best way forward. Last year, he told the Oireachtas transport committee that Cork was at a disadvantage, pointing out that, during the separation of Shannon Airport from the DAA, it had €100m in debts written off and assets transferred at a knockdown rate. This freed up Shannon to give deals to airlines like Ryanair that Cork cannot match.
Cork Airport neither seeks nor needs special treatment. What it does need is fair treatment.
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