Sunday 22 July 2018

Heathrow: the one flight path Irish aviation wants to avoid

Declan Kearney, Aer Lingus; Vincent Harrison, Dublin Airport; and moderator Dearbhail McDonald, Group Business Editor, INM, at the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation’s event
Declan Kearney, Aer Lingus; Vincent Harrison, Dublin Airport; and moderator Dearbhail McDonald, Group Business Editor, INM, at the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation’s event
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Hats off to the Sunday Independent's Dearbhail McDonald, who had the unenviable task of moderating a debate last week on the future of transport and tourism in Ireland.

In one corner, Declan Kearney, head of communications at Aer Lingus. In the other, Dublin Airport managing director Vincent Harrison.

Kearney's boss, Aer Lingus chief executive Stephen Kavanagh, hasn't pulled any punches in the past with his criticisms of Dublin Airport operator DAA, demanding more aggressive expansion to match the airline's transatlantic hub ambitions.

So it was probably best to keep Andrew Murphy, Vincent Harrison's opposite number at Shannon Airport, for the second panel or risk a battle of wills. Shannon - which divorced from the DAA six years ago - is an angry ex, with claims last year (echoed by the Midwest business sector) that Government policy is "immature" and skewed towards a one-airport policy, ie Dublin.

But in the end Harrison and Kearney, drawn together to comment on an ambitious report by the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (Itic) to boost visitor revenue by 65pc by 2025, appeared to be on the one page about one thing: don't do a Heathrow.

While the second Dublin Airport runway development has rumbled on, Harrison said it's actually a success story.

"We firmly believe our runway will be open before they [Heathrow] even get planning permission for their new one," he said. And while Ireland's often accused of not planning ahead, he revealed that "when we had less than one million passengers a year at the airport, that twin runway system was on the map". And Kearney warmed to the notion, saying that "the most mobile asset you can have is aircraft; if you snooze you lose". Ie, grow facilities - and quickly.

He added: "Aviation traffic finds its own path - if you don't invest it will trickle its own way. Heathrow is a main hub in an economy 15 times our size, but the airport is only just over twice our size" [in passenger figures], adding that it's been overtaken in importance by newer players like Dubai International.

The only note of discord is how fast Dublin will develop - the Aer Lingus man wants transatlantic passengers to be able to transfer easily to European services and vice versa, while Harrison countered that he has 47 other airlines to worry about, not just a transatlantic-focused carrier.

But spare a thought for the next man up, Andrew Murphy. While Harrison said Dublin "meets and greets 85pc of all inbound passengers", Murphy looked like someone who'd give his right arm for some crumbs off the big table.

With Dublin happy to be on the periphery of Europe, in-between North America and the EU, it's not so easy for the Midwest, said Murphy, and enticing traffic from Europe, in the face of competition from the UK, is no small feat.

Meanwhile, Declan Kearney is obviously a dab hand at this communications lark, managing to get a dig in at you-know-who over at Ryanair.

Amid all the talk of planning for the future, he spoke of when Terminal 2 opened in 2010, during the economic crash and falling passenger figures, "there were others in the industry saying it [T2] was the death of Irish aviation".

He who laughs last and all that...

There's better news for regional business travellers with the new seasonal Air France Hop! service from Cork to Paris Charles De Gaulle - reported in this column in January - to be extended.

The daily service - both business and economy on board 76-seater Embraer 170s - was initially due to run until October 27.

However, Air France said that due to "positive forward bookings", it will now run year-round, and offer onward connections to over 180 destinations, most handily Mexico and Brazil, as well as European cities.

The Air France announcement is a bit of good news for Cork Airport, which fell at the final hurdle recently to land a route from Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings. Kosice won the route - voted on by members of the public on social media- and it was the latest viral marketing triumph for the Cologne-headquartered carrier.

However, there were grumblings of gamesmanship and vote-bots on Twitter from some of the 10,500 or so Irish voters, claiming that the eventual winner in Slovakia, had some hard-to-believe voting swells.

Cork Airport's top brass, who are still hoping to entice Eurowings to Leeside nevertheless, were in radio-silence mode when contacted by this column after the disappointment.

Sunday Indo Business

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