CHANGED TIMES After a record year for passengers last year, the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the number of people using Ireland West Airport since last March.
Government intervention demanded as airport numbers plummet
The business communities of Mayo, Galway and Sligo have united for the first time to call for Government intervention to ensure the long-term viability of Ireland West Airport Knock during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chambers of Commerce in three counties, representing over 1,000 businesses, have come together to call for swift state action to help Knock Airport cope with losses brought about by the impact of the pandemic on the aviation sector.
The airport suffered an 88 percent decline in passenger numbers in July and August 2020 compared to the corresponding period in 2019.
Knock is facing significant financial losses for 2020 and has had to lay off most of their staff while many others are on reduced working weeks.
“Knock had 807,000 passengers last year, it was their best year,” said Kenneth Deery, the CEO of Galway Chamber, speaking on behalf of the Galway, Mayo and Sligo chambers. “It is a viable airport, this is a really important airport. This is not about putting in pop-up grants to keep a white elephant alive. This is a successful, viable airport that has been impacted because of Covid and continuing government restrictions that are out of kilter with the rest of Europe,” said the Achill native.
“This is a health crisis, and we do accept you have to take the recommendations of NPHET, but we do appear to be out of kilter with the rest of Europe, so we do need some sort of harmonised agreement so the airport in Knock is on a similar agreement to the airport in Bristol or the airport in Paris, so they are all operating to the same rules.
“At the moment, from an Irish point of view, the Government doesn’t seem to be intervening financially in helping the airport and also we are over restricted. We just need to have a level playing field,” Mr Deery added.
The Galway Chamber CEO has had two Zoom meetings with Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Eamonn Ryan and Minister of State for International and Road Transport Hildegarde Naughton in recent weeks on the subject of interventions for regional airports, particularly Knock and Shannon.
The chambers are asking the Government to intervene in two ways, by maintaining regional routes and by providing funding supports for the airports.
“From the point of view of the airports, they are gunning to go; they feel they have procedures in place, they feel they have the adequate PPE in place. However, they are only able to operate on a limited basis because of our travel restrictions,” he said.
Kenneth Deery described Knock and Shannon airports as ‘critically important to the long-term viability of jobs in the west’.
“Our regional airports are of critical importance to the west of Ireland, in providing essential connectivity to global markets for regional businesses, in providing a gateway for much needed tourists and in attracting foreign direct investment into the region. That is why we, as a business community, are coming together to ensure the sustainability of Ireland West Airport Knock,” he said.
He also references the aviation task force set up by the Government in July which Joe Gilmore, Managing Director of Ireland West Airport, and Mary Considine, CEO of Shannon Group, sat on.
“They published recommendations in early July and, as of yet, none of those have been implemented by Government,” he said.
Mr Deery also believes that aviation policy should be aligned with Project Ireland 2040, which, he says, it currently is not.
The Galway Chamber CEO points out that airports will be slow to recover.
“It takes a long time to develop a route and attract an airline, it takes a couple of years. If there isn’t some sort of intervention you will find routes will be lost and it will take years to be replaced. It is not a case of Covid being over and back to normal,” he said.
Management at Knock Airport are forecasting passenger numbers for 2020 to be just 170,000 – a fall of 78 percent from 2019 – with uncertainly shrouding coming years too.
“In our meetings with Ministers Ryan and Naughton, they were saying they get that airports are really important to the regions. We were looking for commitments around implementation of the task force findings and there was broad agreement that they would, but when we looked for timelines, they said they couldn’t commit to a timeline because there are so many moving parts at the minute. We are asking for implementation now,” said Mr Deery.