Lifeline to help grow regional airports
THE Government has thrown regional airports a lifeline by agreeing to provide some funding to help grow passenger numbers, and contribute to the local economy.
A report into the future development of Ireland West Airport in Knock, Co Mayo, (IWAK) says pursing a "progressive" growth strategy over the coming years will enable it, and other regional airports, to achieve a sustainable position in the longer term.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he accepted that airports should be given the opportunity to grow into "viable" businesses, and that the Government had decided to extend public funding for airports beyond 2014, when it was due to end.
It currently provides funding for Donegal, Knock, Kerry and Waterford for capital projects and to help cover operational expenses. The Department of Transport will now prepare a plan, subject to EU approval, to continue supporting the airports.
"IWAK, as well as the other regional airports, will now need to develop business plans for their on-going sustainability and long-term sustainability eventually without exchequer support in line with EU state-aid guidelines, which will restrict the extent to which the State will be in a position to support the airports," Mr Varadkar said.
"Central to these will need to be regional and local business investment."
The study group, chaired by local TD John O'Mahony and which met eight times, said by using Knock as a reference case, the contribution that could be made by regional airports to the economy had been proved. It provided services for almost 690,000 passengers last year.
The airport generates more than €100m to the local economy in tourism spend, but "robust" business plans, more support from local authorities, financial backing from the State for a limited period and cutting costs would help grow the sector.