Ireland West Airport will share in a €6 million addition to the Regional Airport Programme for 2021, which will bring the amount of funding to €21 million under the scheme.
The funding support will assist in protecting the airport’s cash position and positioning it for a recovery in air services as the Irish economy is expected to start to open up in the first half of 2021.
The announcement came earlier this week, before representatives from the regional airports' joint committee of transport and communications networks in the Oireachtas, on Wednesday afternoon.
This is also the same week that the airport will close for four weeks - starting from tomorrow, Saturday, November 14, to re-open on Sunday, December 13, following Ryanair’s decision to pull all fights for that period.
At that announcement to the airport committee, Joe Gilmore, managing director of Ireland West Airport, outlined the seriousness of the situation facing the airport - which is facing losses of €4 million this year and a decline of turnover of €11 million. He also told the committee that the airport had to implement 43 redundancies this year with another 100 staff put on temporary lay-off, with the remaining staff working three days a weeks.
The chairperson of Ireland West Airport, Arthur French, has welcomed the announcement by the government of funding for the aviation sector and a new national airport charges rebate scheme.
He said: “I wish to thank the Taoiseach, Ministers Ryan and Naughton and our local TDs, political representatives and the Western Chambers, for their strong support for the airport and the regions it serves. Without this ongoing support and that of our Local Authority, shareholders and the airport would have been in a critically vulnerable position through the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Furthermore, we welcome the new national airport charges rebate scheme covering the first three months of next year, which will provide support for our airline partners for the restoration of critically important air services at the airport.”
There has been cross-party support to secure the future of the airport, said Fianna Fail Deputy Dara Calleary who held a meeting with An Taoiseach Micheal Martin and the management of the airport last week: He added: “I welcome this additional funding for our vital regional airports-Ireland West Airport Knock in particular. I hosted a virtual meeting last Friday between An Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD and both the Chairman and Chief Executive of Ireland West Airport Knock. Both put forward an excellent case for additional funding and I pay tribute to them and all the staff at the airport for their work in this very difficult year.
“Ireland West Airport Knock is essential for the continued prosperity of our county on the national stage. I believe this funding will help secure its future. It will also give some security to airport employees during what has been a very challenging year. The damage caused by Covid-19 may require further supports for our airport - I will continue to work with the management, staff and my colleagues on Mayo County Council to support the airport.”
Fine Gael deputy Alan Dillon also welcomed the funding, saying: “I have highlighted the devastating impact of the global pandemic on our regional airports, in particular Ireland West Airport Knock, but thankfully, Government remain committed to ensuring that the aviation sector can maintain the necessary core capability to retain strategic connectivity and to quickly rebound when circumstances allow."
While Sinn Fein TD, Rose Conway Walsh, speaking at the Oireachtas committee this week, said: “I welcome the supports announced by the government and I look forward to having the opportunity to analyse the details of the package.
“I want to acknowledge the staff and particularly the 43 workers who were made redundant due to a collapse in revenue and passenger numbers due to Covid. A further 100 workers have been temporarily laid-off. The airport supports a further 3,000 jobs and it is vital that these are protected.
"We must use the EU state aid temporary framework as an opportunity to target funding to ensure the viability of IWAK. It is imperative that we submit a strong capital funding application to lever EU funding.
“As a region in transition, we are eligible for financial support for key strategic infrastructure projects such as IWAK and the Western Rail Corridor. Knock Airport is a success story in terms of regional development. We need to make sure that progress is maintained and built upon. The supports allocated need to take into account the scale and importance of Knock Airport.
“Covid-19 has decimated the airport, with passenger numbers collapsing by 90 percent. The airport is on its knees, but we need to remember the importance and the successes of the airport before Covid hit.
“What Knock Airport needs now is functioning testing for arriving passengers before Christmas to ensure that family and friends can return home safely in December and people can travel on to low-risk routes. These tests need to be affordable to make sure it does not push it out of the reach of some people or dampen travel,” she said.