County councillors have called for the future possibilities of the Galway Airport site at Carnmore to include a major recreational facility which would on par with those available in other cities.
A motion put forward by Fine Gael Aidan Donohue and which called for Galway County Council and Galway City Council, who jointly purchased the facility for €1.1 million, to explore the possibility of the site being transformed into an indoor recreational and sporting facility, adding that other cities such as Limerick have wonderful amenities.
Director of services, Jim Cullen, told councillors that Galway Airport is currently tied into an 11 month lease with Carnmore Aviation Limited but that consultants will be appointed to conduct a feasibility study to determine the best future use of the facility. He added that all suggestions would be taken on board.
“It’s a site with huge potential, that was the reason to buy it. We need to maximise its potential and the widest possible brief is being used,” said Mr Cullen.
The future use and potential of Galway Airport was discussed following a presentation by Ireland West Airport Knock which is seeking agreement in principle from seven local authorities, including Galway county and city councils, to support and invest its 10 year growth plan. It prompted some councillors to wonder what support for Knock Airport would mean for the Carnmore facility.
Independent James Charity asked if the council, as a co-owner, was “ruling out the potential commercial activity at Galway Airport in the medium to long term”. He then asked the representatives of Knock Airport present to clarify if it “would consider working out an arrangement with Galway Airport for minimal domestic service”.
In reply marketing manager at Knock Airport, Donal Healy said that “there are no plans for a PSO service” adding that there had been a service to Dublin but this was deemed unviable. Member of the board of management, Martin Gillen, added: “We are open to any and all meetings that will benefit the region. We are happy to talk to Galway Airport if that is the desire”. Knock Airport later clarified that that is willing to discuss only business practices and there is no possibility of aviation services between the two airports.
In his presentation to councillors Mr Healy revealed that Knock Airport serves one million people, half of whom are from the Mayo and Galway areas. With passenger numbers expected to grow to 700,000 this year, its highest level yet, there is the very real possibility of transatlantic flights, which will have a beneficial knock-on effect for the Galway area. Research has shown that Knock Airport is a key transport hub for the Galway region with one in two overseas visitors going to Galway, that is 100,000 visitors annually and creating a tourism spend of €37 million. The investment from the seven local authorities will help Knock Airport fulfil its 10 year plan, which will increase bed nights in the Galway region to more than 500,000 annually by 2023 and bring tourism revenue to €75 million.
Although well received, there were many councillors who criticised the continuation of the €10 development levy that is paid by passengers going through the airport. Mr Healy replied that the levy is an essential contribution for the airport which is run by a private trust and is used to fund regulatory improvements such as €3 million runway works of which the airport had to provide €300,000.
Supporting the investment Cllr Michael Fahy called for proper signage to direct tourists to Galway attractions. In response, Mr Healy acknowledged that signage is a “bone of contention” and that plans have been submitted to the National Roads Authority for improvements.