The Galway brothers will take a majority stake with plans for significant investment
The billionaire Comer brothers – the Galway-born investors who own a huge property portfolio across Europe – have agreed to pay up to €20m to buy a majority stake in Waterford Airport, the Irish Independent has learned.
The deal is a major coup for the region and a vote of confidence in the airport and its potential to serve the south-east. The acquisition price includes a significant investment programme at the facility, which is expected to begin almost immediately.
Luke and Brian Comer are among Ireland’s most prolific and successful private investors, with more than €1bn worth of property investments in Ireland alone. Starting out as plasterers in London in the 1980s, they have built an extensive property portfolio that also stretches from the UK to Greece.
Their deal to acquire the majority stake in the airport ends a long period of uncertainty for the gateway, with efforts having been underway for years to find strong investors.
It’s understood that Waterford Airport has already initiated project work for a new runway extension as it seeks to restart scheduled commercial services.
Construction of the runway extension is seen as instrumental to attracting airlines to the gateway. It hasn’t had any scheduled commercial services since 2016. It’s currently a base for a search-and-rescue helicopter and used by private aircraft.
Ryanair and Aer Lingus Regional – which is operated by Conor McCarthy’s Emerald Airlines – are likely to be among those who will be courted to launch services from the airport. It is believed discussions with airlines are already underway.
Ryanair’s first ever services operated from Waterford to the UK when it launched in 1985. It ceased services at the airport in 1992.
It is thought that the development of a hotel as well as logistics and warehousing facilities form part of the potential development plans. That could see the airport become an air freight support hub for major international operators in logistics and retailing, as well as industries in the region such as pharmaceuticals.
William Bolster was the majority shareholder of the airport. He and Waterford City and County Council CEO Michael Walsh spearheaded efforts to find new investment for the facility.
It is understood that Mr Bolster will retain a significant minority share in Waterford Airport and continue to be closely involved in the continuing development plans.
Existing shareholders including the county councils of Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford will see their small ownerships stakes further diluted under the sale. A large number of small shareholders include Dawn Meats and Coolmore Stud.
Planning permission for a near 900-metre runway extension at Waterford Airport was granted earlier this year. That will enable jets of virtually any size to land at the gateway. It was originally expected to cost €12m, but the likely cost has now risen to as much as €16m due to inflation.,
The Government has pledged €5m towards the runway bill, while the three local authority co-owners have agreed to stump up €2m.
It is hoped that Waterford Airport will serve about 1,120 outbound flights a year and handle a total of 345,000 per annum within five years of the runway extension being complete, according to a previous report prepared for Waterford City and County Council as it sought permission for the project.
It is also understood that a solar energy farm is being planned beside the airport as it aims to boost its green credentials. That would see the airport powered by the solar farm and any surplus electricity sold to the national grid.
The Comer brothers’ assets in Ireland include Palmerstown House Estate and a swathe of residential and commercial property in the UK and Germany. They also have hotel interests in Greece.