Galway Airport must show it can survive on its own says Walsh

Grealish fears airport will close by end of the year

Galway Airport has been given a stay of execution until the end of this year, during which time it must show it has the capacity and ability to survive the withdrawal of Government funding. If not, it will close for good.

This is the view coming from both Galway West TDs Brian Walsh and Noel Grealish, following the decision of Transport Minister Leo Varadkar to provide €5.9 million in funds to the State’s six regional airports.

This short term support will enable the airports to continue operating, but the decision also comes with a warning to Galway and Sligo airports in that they will receive no funding from 2012 onwards.

Fine Gael’s Dep Walsh said the “ball is not in the airport’s court” regarding its future, but the Independent Dep Grealish was far more pessimistic, saying the decision will see Galway Airport “close at the end of the year”.

Dep Walsh said he welcomes Minister Varadkar’s decision to provide short term funding and said Galway Airport must now show it can survive without State support.

“The airport management has created a business plan that would not require any future State subsidies and that was the real clincher in securing the funding for the next year from the Government,” Dep Walsh told the Galway Advertiser. “It showed the airport is able to demonstrate that it is able to take tough decisions.”

According to Dep Walsh the new plan outlines cuts that will have to be made to the airport’s cost base and it also sets out plans for attracting new carriers to new routes.

“I have managed to convince the Minister that Galway Airport will not rely on funding after thi year,” he said, “and the airport must make progress on that by the end of this year. The ball is firmly in the airport’s court to secure its long term future. It now has to deliver on the business plan.”

Dep Grealish said providing no further funding after 2011 will result in the airport closing and a loss of approximately 180 jobs.

“By refusing to provide any funding to the airport beyond 2011, the Minister is ignoring the advice of Galway Chamber of Commerce and local representatives about the devastating economic consequences that this decision will have,” he said. “The image this sends to multi-nationals based in Galway or those considering locating here is that the western region is not a priority.”

He is now calling on Fine Gael and Labour Oireachtas members for Galway to get the Minister to reverse the decision. In this he has been joined by Galway West Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív.

“Air access is vital to the west of Ireland,” he said. “Air access is a major issue for multi-national companies when they make decisions on where to invest their money and create jobs.”

He also said the decision to withdraw funding from Galway and Sligo makes no sense on geographical grounds either.

“Consider Waterford’s proximity to Cork Airport and the fact that it is less than 100 miles from Dublin, while Galway is 130 miles from Dublin,” he said, “and there are a further 35,000 people living west of Galway city who are up to 200 miles from Dublin.”

Dep Ó Cuív said he will “continue to work with my colleagues in the Dáil, with Galway Chamber of Commerce, Galway Airport, and all other relevant interests in the west over the next six months to get this decision reversed.”

Labour Galway West TD Derek Nolan said he was “disappointed” by Minister Varadkar’s decision to “end operational funding for Galway Airport”, but welcomed that some funding was being provided up to the end of 2011.

FG Sen Fidelma Healy Eames said that while the airport is “safe, for now”, Galway has “to now make the case for its long-term future”. She said: “It is now in the gift of business people, local organisations and government bodies such as the IDA and Tourism Ireland to highlight the benefits of the airport.”

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