A new lease of life for Galway Airport?

The former Galway Airport site may soon be open for business again with negotiations ongoing by the Galway City Council, Galway County Council, and Carnmore Aviation Ltd.

As reported in our lead story, it is understood that once negotiations are finalised, the contract will allow Carnmore Aviation Ltd - owned by the Conneely family of Ballinasloe, which also owns the Weston Airport in Lucan, to operate or oversee operations for air services for the next 12 months. The service is likely to be for an ‘air taxi’ Galway - Dublin route, with the local authorities carrying out a feasibility study on the facility during that time.

So is the operation of an air taxi from Galway Airport a good thing for the city?

Despite private aviation use by the Galway Flying Club, Galway Airport has been officially closed since last year, but was in decline since 2011 - a combination of the recession, falling passenger numbers, Aer Arann suspending winter flights, and the withdrawal of Government funding. Another killer blow was the vastly improved infrastructure linking Galway with Knock and Shannon.

In 2011 Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh said “this has provided passengers with viable alternatives and people have been voting with their feet by not using the airport.” At that time he also said: “The first question any new carrier will ask is: why did Aer Arann pull out? And the reason is that the public are not using the facility.”

This point was repeated last year at a city council meeting by Fianna Fáil’s Peter Keane, who said the current journey time to Shannon would be cut by at least 35 minutes when the M18 upgrade was finished.

However numerous arguments have been put forward as to why the city needs an airport, particularly by the Galway Chamber of Commerce. Such arguments emphasise that an airport provides greater connectivity between the city and other parts of Ireland and further afield to Britain and parts of northern France. It has also been said an airport is essential in attracting foreign investment and multi-nationals which would view connectivity and an expanded transport infrastructure favourably.

The IDA has been quoted by Independent county councillor Jim Cuddy as saying the closure of Galway Airport would adversely affect its ability “to attract inward investment into Galway and in persuading companies to set up a base here”.

Late last year the airport was bought for €1.1 million by the two Galway local authorities in order for the site “to be utilised in the interests of people in the area”. Now comes the possibility that the airport will re-open.

As a commercial enterprise, the initial ambitions seem modest - a 12 month trial period of Galway to Dublin flights, with the possibility of including more destinations at a later point.

However given the recession has not gone away; that tax hikes and cuts continue to bite; and that Shannon and Knock airports are closer than ever due to the improved road network this would seem to be a wise course - a testing the skies, so to speak, to see what might be possible, a fact underlined by the carrying out of the feasibility study.

Furthermore, the fact the airport is open again means job creation, and in the current climate that is always to be welcomed. Certainly it is hoped the venture will be a successful one, with opportunities to grow, develop, and, in the face of Knock and Shannon, prove commercially viable.


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