The news that Ireland West Airport Knock has been given the green light by the European Commission for State aid under Core Airport Management Operational Expenditure (OPEX ) Scheme and a Regional Airports Capital Expenditure Grant (CAPEX ) has been welcomed by warmly by the Government TDs in the county.
The funding of up to €42.5 million, or 75 per cent of the requirements allowed under the scheme, will now be made available, where appropriate, to Knock Airport in accordance with the criteria set out in the 2014 EU Guidelines on State aid to airports and airlines. The formal approval permits Ireland to provide financial supports to the regional airports, under the two main schemes, up to a maximum aid intensity level of €42.5m over the period 2015 to 2019. The level of funding provided in each year of the programme will be determined on the basis of submissions from the airports, including five year business plans, and the availability of exchequer resources in any one year. In addition to the financial supports in accordance with EU State aid rules, the Exchequer will also provide financial assistance to the regional airports for those costs associated with public policy remit requirements.
The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, welcomed the decision of the European Commission on Knock Airport. Formal approval has now been received for Ireland’s 2015-2019 Regional Airports Programme for Knock following a lengthy and detailed consultation process with the EU Commission, which commenced in July 2014. The Taoiseach has also asked Minister Donohoe to visit Knock Airport in September to see the facilities and meet the board of Ireland West Airport Knock.
Deputy John O'Mahony who chaired a study group into the future of the airport also welcomed the announcement. Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser yesterday, Deputy O'Mahony said: "The State now has the green light to fun up to 75 per cent intially and there is a provision that in certain circumstances 95 per cent funding can be given. The Taoiseach has stated that it will be supported, that will be in play as well. The Taoiseach has taken a personal interest in this. As the chairperson of the study group who met on the airport, this is another major hurdle that has been crossed."
The Government TDs in the county have come in for criticism over the delay in securing funding to ensure the future of the airport, but it was not as easy as just writing a cheque, he said. "It is vindication, it was never going to be as simple a writing a big cheque and it being sorted out. A number of months ago the indication was there that the funding was in place but the green light had to come from Brussels." The future of the airport is good, he went on to say, but there are other challenges it will face in the future. "Last weekend was great for the airport where you had the situation with the pilgrimage flight from New York arriving, and the Aer Lingus chief executive was on the ground and saw first hand the facilities and the support from all the local communities for the airport. I have always said this is not just an east Mayo issue, it's an issue for the whole north west of the country. There is light at the end of the tunnel, no other airport in Europe increased their passenger numbers threefold in the teeth of the recession. There will still be challenges and issues in the future, but the most urgent funding needs to be for the extension of the apron and refit of the apron of the airport."
The work of the study group ensured that all the right people were singing off the same sheet when it came to ensuring that the funding was obtained O'Mahony said. "It was a thorough review, that had to be done in a structured and organised way. The benefit was that all the experts were around the table and they were in on the decision, because they are the people that are in Brussels and supplying the information to the EU. There were a lot of tense discussions about the best way of pushing this forward, it was something that I was delighted to chair and be involved in and it needed the full support of the Government."
Minister of State Michael Ring also welcomed the news, saying: "This formal approval enables our Department to provide critical financial supports to the regional airports. I am particularly pleased that Knock Airport will receive much needed funding to develop its services and facilities for the growing number of passengers it welcomes yearly.