Dublin Airport needs to raise game to remain strong - Walsh
Dublin Airport needs to invest in additional infrastructure if it's to continue being an effective hub, the chief executive of Aer Lingus owner IAG, Willie Walsh, has warned. But he cautioned that such development must be cost effective.
IAG acquired Aer Lingus last year for €1.36bn and is using Dublin as a hub for transatlantic travel, driving passenger volumes from the UK and other European cities through the capital. IAG also owns British Airways, and Spanish carriers Iberia and Vueling.
Dublin Airport, controlled by the DAA, is re-evaluating plans for a second runway. It's likely to be operational within five years or so.
But speaking at the sidelines of the 'Airline Economics' conference in Dublin, Mr Walsh told the Irish Independent that other infrastructure issues also need to be addressed.
"It has challenges in terms of taxiways and stands. It's not just a runway. I think there are things Dublin needs to address in terms of infrastructure today to enable it to be an effective hub," he said. "It's worked well, but the scale of the existing operation is clearly smaller than we would like to see."
Aer Lingus will launch routes from Dublin to Los Angeles, Newark and Hartford, Connecticut, this year as part of its expansion. Other US destinations could be eyed in the future, such as Miami and a link with Texas.
"There's a good case for a second runway at Dublin," said Mr Walsh. "Runway slots at Dublin are all filled during the peak. There's capacity available in the off-peak. It's very difficult to change and operate an effective network in the off-peak, particularly if you're trying to keep operating as a hub.
"While I think there's a case for a second runway, I think there's an important case to be made for improving the existing infrastructure that will enable Dublin to operate more efficiently."
Mr Walsh added: "The critical issue is to ensure that any additional infrastructure is built in a cost-effective manner.
"You can't just build infrastructure and hope it will work. It will only work if it's efficient in terms of operation and cost."
The chief executive of the DAA, Kevin Toland, said that new aircraft stands were added last year at Dublin Airport and more would be added this year. He conceded that passenger charges would also eventually rise modestly to fund a new runway. The DAA announced yesterday that it will hire 180 more staff this year.
Mr Walsh has previously said that he would consider moving some of British Airways' operations to either Dublin or Madrid if a planned £18bn (€23bn) third runway at Heathrow goes ahead. The UK government has postponed a decision until the summer on whether or not the runway should go ahead.
"It's at a ridiculous cost. It translates into a doubling of the operating costs (at Heathrow). You can't afford to do that in Ireland," he said. "Ireland is successful in terms of its tourism and business at Dublin because the cost base is reasonably effective. It needs to be very effective going forward."
Mr Walsh said Aer Lingus has worked out even "better" for IAG than it had anticipated.