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Ireland West Airport expects Covid hit to depress passenger numbers to 2001 levels 



Flying: Ireland West Airport Knock

Flying: Ireland West Airport Knock

Flying: Ireland West Airport Knock

IRELAND West Airport - commonly known as Knock Airport - will see its passenger numbers slump by 75pc this year, marking its lowest level in 19 years.

The airport said yesterday that it expects to handle just over 200,000 passengers in 2020, having been on track prior to the pandemic to notching up another record year of numbers. It had expected to exceed one million passengers a year within two years.

In 2019, the facility handled 807,000 passengers, which was a record for the gateway.

Revenue at the airport is expected to decline by more than €11m this year. In 2019, it generated turnover of €14.9m, which compared to €14.6m in 2018. More than €13m was spent upgrading the airport's infrastructure last year, with the bulk of that spent up rehabilitating its runway.

Even prior to the Covid crisis took a firm grip, it was facing challenges, however, when UK-based carrier Flybe collapsed in early March. The airline had operated services from Ireland West to Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester.

Yesterday, the airport said that 2020 had started positively for the facility.

However, it closed on March 30 and remained closed for 91 days.

Services resumed on July 1, but Ryanair is currently operating just 40pc of its planned schedule for this time of year at the airport. An Aer Lingus route to London Gatwick remains suspended, with a provisional date of mid-September for its return.

The airport, whose managing director is Joe Gilmore, said that the drop in passenger numbers will have a "devastating impact" on the hospitality and tourism industries in Ireland's west and north west that rely on overseas connectivity.

Ireland West has also had to axe 25pc of its workforce and the remainder are on a four-day week. The airport employed 150 full and part-time staff prior to the pandemic.

Last year, Ireland West Airport said it helped to contribute €182m to tourism spend in the west and north west of the country, and supported almost 3,200 jobs.

The airport's chairman, Arthur French, said he welcomed the recent report from the Government's Aviation Task Force, which set out a plan to rebuild Ireland's aviation sector.

"We have recently met with, and continue to have positive discussions with the Department of Transport and the new Minister of State with responsibility for aviation, Hildegarde Naughton, as regards implementing the actions of the report and putting in place the appropriate financial support mechanism to support and incentivise the restoration of critical air access into regional Ireland," he said.

The report by the task force said that a stimulus package should be initiated for Cork, Shannon, Ireland West, Kerry and Donegal airports to encourage the rebuilding of traffic.

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"As part of this package, the State should directly provide the airports with a common fixed sum per passenger which will be used by the airports to stimulate traffic by reducing airport charges for airlines and restoring and growing passenger numbers to the regions," it said.

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