Companies and tourism in the west will be at a competitive disadvantage if the region’s air connections and services are not further developed and supported, according to Western Development Commission (WDC ) which recently published its latest policy briefing on ‘Air Access and the Western Region’.
“Direct international air access to and from the Western Region’s ‘regional’ airports needs to be maximised to drive enterprise and tourism, as well as making the most of this infrastructure,” says policy analyst at the WDC, Deirdre Frost.
According to the WDC ‘regional’ airports are outside State ownership and are important international access points serving local and regional demand, and that role should not just be expressed in terms of supporting links to and from State airports.
“The important role of ‘regional’ airports in providing direct international linkages, supporting balanced regional development, and stimulating economic growth should be fully recognised.
“The European Commission recognises the role that regional airports play in integrating peripheral parts of Europe and, in support of this, permits state aid for route development from small regional airports. The WDC believes that these EU aid guidelines should be examined to determine how they might support direct international air access from Western Region airports,” said Ms Frost.
The WDC found that relatively poor direct international air access has been a factor in the decline in the tourism sector in the Western Region. Commenting on the Government’s announcement in January that it would no longer fund Public Service Obligation routes to and from Dublin with Sligo, Ireland West Airport Knock, and Galway airports, the WDC says: “We believe that, where EU guidelines allow, PSO air links to Dublin should continue. EU guidelines allow PSOs where surface journey times are greater than three hours. Many parts of the Western Region could be seen as remote or ‘inaccessible’ to foreign investors and tourists if a situation develops where there is no means to access them from Dublin in less than three hours.”
Ms Frost continued: “Transport infrastructure is one of the most important factors in stimulating economic growth – enabling more efficient movement of goods, people and services. Given the continued inaccessibility of large parts of the Western Region, government policy must fully recognise the international access role of ‘regional’ airports. It’s also critical that the use of these key pieces of regional infrastructure, which have received significant public investment, be maximised for the benefit of the region and the country.”