Friday 23 February 2018

Galway airport 'crushed' as funding cut


John Mulligan

The managing director of Galway Airport has described the decision by transport minister Leo Varadkar to axe funding for the facility from next year as "crushing".

Speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday, Joe Walsh claimed that the Department of Transport had "no interest" in supporting the airport and was "hell bent" on seeing it close.

An angry Mr Walsh said that the government has failed to properly assess the financial case for and merits of the airport, which is expected to receive about €1.7m this year from the taxpayer to support its operations.

He said that a business plan previously prepared by the airport aimed to significantly reduce its reliance on state funding in coming years -- to around €240,000 by 2014.

He added that having just six months to secure alternative funding was "neither reasonable nor practical" and doubted the ability of the airport to source any adequate fresh investment. Closure of the airport, which directly employs 62 people, could happen by next year, he added.

Mr Varadkar yesterday said that he wouldn't be reversing his decision to cut funding for Galway and Sligo airports.

Knock, Waterford, Kerry and Donegal will continue to benefit from state funding. "In the context of a €100m cut to my budget next year it won't be possible to fund all six airports," said Mr Varadkar.

About 59,000 passengers passed through Galway Airport last year, with the facility having effectively broken even during the period, according to Mr Walsh.

In 2010 it received about €1.33m in subvention from the government, while it indirectly received €1m in the form of landing charges and ground services from the operation of a public service obligation (PSO) route by Aer Arann. That PSO route, as well as a PSO route servicing Sligo, is being terminated next month.

Sligo Airport general manager Joe Corcoran told the Irish Independent yesterday that he would "have to be innovative" in attracting new revenue streams.

"If one looks at the level of funding that Sligo Airport has had to rely on compared to others, I don't think we're getting a fair crack of the whip," he claimed. The airport received €313,000 operating expenditure subvention in 2009 and an average of €160,000 per annum between 2005 and 2009.

The managing director of Ireland West Knock airport, Joe Gilmore, doesn't believe the facility will see any material lift in its passenger numbers if Galway and Sligo airports ultimately close after losing State funds.

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