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Regional airports 'should be protected'

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Shannon Airport

Shannon Airport

Shannon Airport

Pre-Covid-19, the Government was urged to make Shannon, Cork and Ireland West airports strategic economic hubs.

Now business groups warn that any centralisation of Aer Lingus services on Dublin due to the Covid-19 fallout would further reinforce Dublin's damaging aviation monopoly.

The plea came as Ireland West/Knock Airport revealed it faced devastating returns, with passenger numbers down by a startling 75pc this year.

Ireland West chairman Arthur French said the scale of the problem was underlined by the fact that 2019 delivered record numbers at the airport, with 807,000 passengers.

This year, just 200,000 passengers are forecast to use the airport - bringing it back to 2001 business levels.

"Covid-19 has and continues to have a devastating effect on not just the airport, but the entire aviation and tourism and hospitality sector," he warned.

Limerick Chamber chief executive Dee Ryan cautioned that any threat to the Aer Lingus regional hubs would be catastrophic - and said that it was even being considered as proof of the damaging dominance Dublin Airport has on Irish aviation.

"The news relates to Shannon and Cork but not Dublin?  Long before Covid-19, we have been warning about the destructive impact that Dublin Airport has on other Irish ­airports," she said.

"If you look at the period since Shannon was separated in 2012 up to the end of last year, Shannon grew by 300,000 passengers, Cork by 250,000 passengers in the same period but Dublin by almost 14 million passengers.

"It is not possible for other airports to reach their potential under that sort of monopoly, a monopoly that may be good for Dublin but clearly not for the regions, as this Aer Lingus review confirms again."

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Cork Chamber of Commerce policy director Thomas McHugh said the aviation industry was critical for key sectors of the economy.

"From 2015 to 2018, Cork Airport recorded a 30pc increase in passengers," he said.

"Cork Airport was expected to deliver a 6pc growth rate this year before the pandemic hit. It is inconceivable that Aer Lingus would not have a ­presence at Ireland's fastest- growing airport."

The chamber official pointed out that other countries have provided direct aid to the aviation sector, given its strategic economic importance.

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