Thursday 22 March 2018

Regional airport to get millions of euro despite losing its last flights

VLM Airlines has pulled out of Waterford
VLM Airlines has pulled out of Waterford
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Waterford Airport is still in line for millions of euro of taxpayers' money to extend its runway - despite having no scheduled air services any more.

Belgian airline VLM cancelled its Waterford-London Luton service this week, after pulling its route to Birmingham a couple of months ago.

It has left the airport management scrambling to find a replacement carrier for the airport, where Ryanair launched its first ever flight in 1985.

Minister of State John Halligan - the Independent TD who lent his support to the Government in return for a pledge of millions of euro in funding for the planned runway extension at Waterford Airport - has insisted the deal isn't in jeopardy. Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Halligan - who once sat on the airport board - said he's confident that another airline can be lured to Waterford, despite all previous carriers serving the airport having cancelled their routes.

The newly-appointed Transport Minister, Shane Ross, is due to visit the airport the week after next to assess the viability of the runway extension plan.

Mr Halligan said the total cost of the extension is likely to be between €20m and €25m. The hope is that jet aircraft, such as the Boeing 737, would then be able to use the airport, increasing its attractiveness.

Minister of State John Halligan
Minister of State John Halligan

Currently, the runway can only handle smaller aircraft such as turboprops, which carry about 50 people.

But Hamish Davidson, the chief executive of VLM, told the Irish Independent that he does not believe there is sufficient demand in the area for services that would use larger aircraft.

"Waterford is close enough to Dublin and Cork, so the catchment area will always be sort of limited," he said. "We would not see a potential for 100-seater aircraft, but the 50-seater could serve nicely over summertime."

He said VLM cancelled its Waterford services because it's losing pilots to airlines operating jets.

The chief executive of Waterford Airport, Desmond O'Flynn, said in a statement that he's "very disappointed" at the loss of the VLM service. He was unavailable for further comment, however.

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