BACK IN BUSINESS The check-in area of Ireland West Airport is about to get much busier with the return of a full schedule of Ryanair flights from today (Tuesday).
Knock airport in line for a ‘bumper summer
Early indications show that Ireland West Airport will enjoy a ‘bumper summer’ as pent-up demand sees a surge for flights to and from the west of Ireland.
Flight and passenger numbers plunged in 2020 and 2021, but today is hoped to be the start of a surge towards pre-pandemic numbers.
Ryanair flights return to a full schedule today (Tuesday) after being halved for most of January – and it looks like a busy week ahead.
Speaking yesterday, the airport’s head of marketing, Donal Healy, said: “Every week we’re sent a list of expected traffic for the week ahead from Ryanair and Aer Lingus, and what we received today looks very strong for the week coming.”
Healy is delighted to see the change in fortunes at last. “It’s a long while since I saw numbers as good,” he said, saying it was 2019 the last time such figures were seen. “There was a lot of looking out to an empty terminal for the past two years.”
And the head of marketing believes the only way is up, as the season generally continues to pick up as the year progresses. “Typically it is a quiet time of the year in general; we will start getting busier from the midterm on, when we will have both the Milan and Malaga flights back,” he said.
“It will be interesting to see how it plays out, but we’re looking at a bumper season. There is a lot of pent up demand for people to go to the UK and go to the sun and people have money saved too.
“The indications from Ryanair and Aer Lingus are that we are on course for a very strong summer.”
Ryanair has reinstated ‘almost 100 percent’ of its pre-pandemic flights, with no destination removed. Furthermore, it has added three new flights to Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham, taking over those flights in the wake of the liquidation of British airline Flybe. Ryanair had cut ‘40 to 50 percent’ of its flights from January 10-31, but it is back at full capacity from today.
January was a ‘grim’ month, Healy concedes. Aer Lingus will return with their ‘summer schedule’ from March 13. Over 80 percent of traffic at Knock comes from Ryanair.
Craic is back
The Omicron variant led to a topsy-turvy Christmas at the airport with no shows – passengers who booked flights but did not fly – going as high as 30 percent.
In 2019, the airport had its most successful year, with 807,000 passengers. However, it suffered hugely in 2020, with passenger numbers plummeting to 148,000, the lowest figure since 1995. Last year was up slightly, reaching 174,000.
Already, Healy and the crew at the airport have noticed a change. Last Friday saw a hen party fly to Liverpool, while several stag parties are booked to fly in the coming weeks.
“The craic with the hen and a group of lads at the (Departures) bar was as good as we’ve seen since Covid hit. It was something we took for granted pre-Covid. It is great to see the bar so lively; it is a sign of some form of normality,” he said.
Ireland West Airport Knock is not setting any targets for the coming year; while the indications are positive, it still has to tread carefully.
Public-health measures are being maintained, but the decision to drop testing has boosted demand considerably.
“We encourage mask wearing and sanitising,” Healy said. “The physical-distancing requirements have been removed (by Government), but it is still best practice for us, and we’ve still perplex screens in place and are taking it slow. We certainly did not go ripping everything down.
“The need for testing going to and from the UK is gone, and that’s a massive boost, so there’s no real restrictions; it is back to normal in that sense.
“There will be a lot of traffic to and from the UK in terms of people who haven’t seen family and friends, football traffic and people who had been commuting over and back for work.”
The airport has also been one of the few businesses to benefit from Brexit. The departure of the UK from the EU has meant the return of duty free, providing a sales boost for the airport’s shop beyond the customs gate.