Plans to open an international airport on the Westmeath/ Offaly border became less of a pipedream this week, after An Bord Pleanála decided to grant the €200 million venture “strategic infrastructure” status which will allow the developers to apply directly to the planning board and not have to submit an initial application to the local authorities.
The proposed 640-hectare (1,600 acres ) site is a private initiative led by Tullamore-based architect, Patrick Little. It is 20kms east of Athlone, 38kms south of Mullingar, and half way between the N6 at Moate and the Dublin-Galway railway at Clara.
An Bord Pleanála describes the site as “lightly populated” and “relatively level”.
Mr Little claims the backing of eight investors, with their financial commitment to fund the project given as “pretty firm”, and he hopes to submit a planning application within the next eight months, after which An Bord Pleanála would hold oral hearings before deciding whether to grant permission.
Pending this, construction could start within the following 12 months and the airport would be open at the end of 2013. The developers have projcted the airport would cater for up to two million passengers a year by 2020, and would also handle cargo.
The project does not have any State funding and the Department of Transport said it had “no plans to support the development of any new airports”.
In a statement on Monday, it said its policy was that private individuals could develop airports in “whatever location they wished”, provided they met standards set down by the Irish Aviation Authority and secured planning permission.
Mr Little said the backers were “keen to see that the Midlands will benefit from its gateway status and develop in a sustainable way”.
A “good number” of low-cost airlines had made expressions of interest, Mr Little said. In a statement, Ryanair said: “If Tubber airport is to be a low-cost facility, we will certainly consider offering Ryanair’s lowest fares to and from Co Offaly”.