Chairman of Ireland West Airport Liam Scollan has hit out at proposals in the McCarthy Report which he says fails to put the spotlight on the considerable level of State largesse provided to the State’s own regional airports, Cork and Shannon, and focuses instead on the much less significant funding interventions made to the so-called “regional airports” (Waterford, Kerry, Galway, IWA Knock, Sligo and Donegal ).
Mr Scollan has also argued that the report supports the status quo which sees the State airports cushioned by taxpayer handouts and by imposed levy payments from competing independent airports, thereby ensuring that an inefficient, inequitable and ultimately taxpayer-supported aviation system will continue.
He finds it incredible that a report charged with recommending cuts in public expenditure ignores the largest beneficiaries of State support when it comes to aviation.
While he wholeheartedly agrees with rationalisation of aviation expenditure, he argues the State’s own regional airports, Cork and Shannon, get free air traffic control worth over €2.5m per year respectively, c€250m of capital funding, Government pressure on airlines to introduce new commercial air services worth millions per year in revenues, Government funding support to fight legal battles with airlines that challenge them, other State bodies like Bus Éireann supplying customers to their door, and millions of additional support in tourism funding aimed specifically at promoting their inbound routes from the UK and elsewhere.
By contrast, Ireland West Airport has received no operational aid from the Government in the last three years, and pays from its own resources for all the services such as air traffic control, which the competing State airports get for free. Furthermore the region it serves (the west and north west ) gets a tiny fraction of the overseas tourism marketing support provided into the southern region, while Bus Éireann, a State body, transports passengers from its region direct to Dublin Airport.
In fact the €2m per year of Core Operational Grant aid that the other so-called ‘regional airports’ get combined, is a miserable fraction of the largesse provided for decades to the State’s own airports.
Furthermore, IWA Knock now serves almost 600,000 passengers, operates services to 20 overseas destinations including four daily services to London with Ryanair and Aer Lingus, and services to cities like Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham East Midlands, Birmingham, and Bristol all year round as well as having started scheduled services to Europe. In fact IWA Knock now accounts for 45 per cent of all air services the UK market operated from Shannon up to Derry, returns €60m annually to the regional economy and its economic impact provides €8.5m annually to the Government in exchequer returns.
“Any rationalisation of Government expenditure must surely assess how all regions from the south east to the north west are served by air and include Cork and Shannon in that review, and it should take further account of the value for money which each airport offers when State funding is supplied,” said Mr Scollan.
In light of the proposals in the McCarthy Report, Ireland West Airport Knock has called for a detailed assessment by Government of the viability of all regional airports including the former “Aer Rianta” airports, prior to implementing sweeping changes.