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IWAK’s Government support safe


Sky’s the limit for IWAK as Government support to stay in place

A well-structured campaign against changes which threatened its very existence appears to have made for a bright future for Mayo’s airport

Neill O’Neill

IRELAND West Airport Knock received a massive pre-Christmas present this week, when the study group tasked by the Taoiseach to report on its viability and prospects made their presentations to senior members of the Government, and garnered a very favourable reaction.
The airport had been facing a loss of State subvention from the end of next year, which would have been a crippling blow to its future plans, but this has now been reversed, with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar stating that a change in current aviation policy ‘to recognise the significant role that regional airports, particularly including Ireland West Knock, currently play in driving access and regional economic development, would be forthcoming.’
The Minister also gave a commitment that the upcoming new aviation policy will acknowledge this and position that role going forward, adding that an investment up to a ten year period to 2023 will enable the airport to deliver its goals and achieve a self-sustainable position.
The report of the study group, which was presented to An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and Minister Varadkar last week, contains a number of targets and parameters that will guide the Airport in moving forward and pursuing a progressive growth strategy and implement a business plan, which should enablIe WAK to achieve a sustainable position in the longer term.
The study group, chaired by local TD John O’Mahony and which met on a total of eight occasions, comprised of representatives from a range of local and national interests including the Airport Board and management, Government Departments, local business, State agencies and local authorities. They were assisted by Ernst and Young.
In marking the publication of the Study Group Report, Deputy O’Mahony said he was pleased to have been invited by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny to chair this Study Group to examine the potential for the future of Ireland West Airport Knock.

‘Fairly acknowledged’
“It represented an opportunity and a challenge against the backdrop of changing policy positions at both a national and European level,” he said. “My concern has been to ensure that the contribution made by regional airports to social and economic development in peripheral locations is fairly acknowledged at a national and European level. By using IWAK as a reference case, I believe this has been demonstrated.”
Deputy O’Mahony added that he was confident that the report will be of significant benefit, not only in terms of IWAK’s future, but also in developing policy on regional airports in Ireland.
Welcoming the publication of the study group report, Joe Gilmore, Managing Director of IWAK, said the publication of the report was a very positive step and clearly highlights the strong business case for future investment in the airport. Thanking all the airport staff, local authorities and stakeholders, politicians, Government agencies, business, tourism and interest groups who have supported the airport and ‘this process’ over the last number of months, Mr Gilmore also stated his belief that the Government will endorse the recommendations outlined in the report, and put in place a long term investment programme to enable the airport to deliver to its potential   and achieve a self-sustainable position.
Particularly pleasing for all stakeholders, and indeed the people of Mayo, for whom IWAK is one of the most strategic infrastructural assets in the county, will be the words of Minister Varadkar in relation to the contribution made by regional airports to their local economies.

Fraught campaign
IWAK has been engaged in a fraught campaign to try and get a turnaround in national policy in relation to regional airports, particularly after the Government stepped in and bailed out Shannon airport last year. At one stage it looked like decades of continuous growth and development at IWAK would be forced to a halt with the loss of crucial State support, but the findings of this report and the reaction of the Government, has vindicated their position and the fair, justified and cooperative campaign they fought so valiantly.
“IWAK, as well as the other regional airports, will now need to develop business plans for their ongoing 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 (including local authorities) will be in a position to support the airports,” Minister Varakdar added, explaining that eventually, the airport will have to stand on its own two feet.
“Central to this will need to be regional and local business investment and given the strong commitment of the local authorities and businesses to the work of the Study Group, I am confident they will not be found wanting in this regard,“Minister Varadkar concluded.
Also welcoming the publication of the report, Mayo County Manager and Airport Trust Chairman, Peter Hynes, said Mayo County Council are very pleased to have been part of the Study Group.  
“The report sets targets and challenges for all stakeholders including the local authorities and we look forward to working with these stakeholders to grow the airport over the next ten years, for the benefit of the entire west and north west,” he said.