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Unlocking Knock’s potential

Politicians at the Knock Airport announcement
EYES ON THE FUTURE Mayo TDs Dr Jerry Cowley, Beverley Flynn and John Carty had front row seats on Monday, with Cllr Frank Chambers, Brian McEniff and Ray McSharry among those sitting behind them. Pic: Mick McCormack

Unlocking Knock’s potential

Michael Duffy

IT’S becoming a bit of a cliché but the ‘untapped tourism potential of the West and northwest’ has been touted for many years now. However, those in the know feel that after Monday’s announcement, the time is now right to make a serious push for a share of the lucrative North American market.
One of the west best-known tourism promoters in the region, former EU Commissioner Ray McSharry, is confident that the new routes will have the desired knock-on effect for the tourism industry right along the western seaboard.
Mr McSharry has long been a high-profile Ireland West Airport Knock enthusiast and he feels the future could indeed be very bright.
“The fact remains that only one million people cross the Atlantic from America to holiday each year but we are told there are upwards of 35 million Irish Americans in the States so the market potential is huge. Ireland West Airport Knock can set about grabbing its share of that pie.
“If this is marketed properly it will be a huge success. People have to realise that it is now almost impossible to get planning permission for an airport so we are so lucky to have this facility here. It’s ready for use, it’s ready for expansion and it can be the catalyst for serious tourism growth.”
The former Fianna Fáil Minister went on to say that plans mooted for another airport in Dublin did not make sense when Knock was there to be developed and expanded.
“Suggestions about a second airport in Dublin do not make sense. This is a small country, this airport here can be Dublin’s second airport. I feel we in the northwest have the greatest potential for development because we are not over-populated. We don’t have the infrastructural logjam you have around Dublin, Cork, Limerick and even Galway.
“There is no doubt about it, it is of fundamental importance to the region that Americans can now fly directly into the heart of the region on a regular and scheduled service. It is also hugely significant that the services in question also connect with Liverpool and Glasgow.”
Monsignor Joe Quinn from Knock Shrine is also hopeful of major tourism growth with the announcement, noting that a key part of the original vision for the airport was to serve pilgrims worldwide.
“This announcement has huge potential to attract more pilgrims from the United States to Knock Shrine and to many religious and heritage sites throughout the west of Ireland,” stated Monsignor Quinn, who also made a call for all tourism promotion agencies in the area to work together to make the most of this opportunity.
Mr Paul O’Toole, Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland, feels the new services are a ‘huge vote of confidence in the region’.
“They will substantially expand air travel options for potential tourists and open up Ireland’s western regions even more as a holiday destination to the lucrative North American market. We will work closely with flyglobespan, Ireland West Airport Knock and the industries both in Ireland and the in the US, to promote and maximise the inbound tourism potential presented by these new routes,” stated Mr O’Toole.
Tourism Ireland is the marketing body for the island of Ireland.

{mospagebreak title=American Reaction}
Excitement abounds on both sides of the Atlantic

Michael Duffy 

IT’S clear that if the new transatlantic services from Ireland West Airport Knock are to work there is going to have to be plenty of traffic in both directions. And, on first glance it seems that there is ample support for the services in the States.
Mr Tom Dalrymple is Chairman of flyglobespan.com and he is confident of the new flights being a huge success.
“The hereditary and cultural ties between the north east coast of America and the west of Ireland are very strong and we expect there to be similarly big demand from the States into Ireland West Knock. These routes are part of daily services we are introducing between Liverpool and JFK and Glasgow and Boston. They have been attracting considerable interest from both sides of the Atlantic since they went on sale and we expect a similarly favourable response from these additional services,” stated Mr Dalrymple, whose company was launched in 2002 and is one of Britain’s fastest growing airlines.
The Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who visited the airport last August with Sligo TD John Perry, is also very confident that the centuries of links between his city and the west of Ireland will be further cemented through this new venture.
“We have the good fortune to be known as the 33rd county of Ireland and our relationship can now grow even closer. Not only will these flights make it easier for Americans to get to the west of Ireland, it will enable Irish residents to visit New York. Thanks to the hard work of scores of people on both sides of the Atlantic, including Deputy Mayor for Government Kevin Skeekey, we were able to secure these important routes - and I look forward to landing on the runway myself next week,” said Mayor Bloomberg.
Mr Jim Kelly, who operates a string of travel agencies in Boston, is sure that there will be a steady stream of visitors from Boston. He travelled all the way from Massachusetts’ capital for the launch.
“My company sends over 25,000 people every year and the biggest problem we had was access but now we can fly our clients straight into the west, where most of our clients want to go. We have already made plans to do tours of this area and a client of ours has already booked 70 golfers to come here in August and they will be flying into Knock on a Globespan flight. Knock has many advantages but the absence of traffic congestion is a huge advantage and this will undoubtedly work in its favour I believe,” said Mr Kelly.

{mospagebreak title=Political Reaction}
Carty hopeful of funding announcement

Michael Duffy

A huge amount of time and money has been invested in recent months by those who manage Ireland West Airport Knock to secure Monday’s announcement, but it is generally accepted that it’s now up to the Government to reward their endeavour by announcing major funding for the airport.
Over €90 million has been allocated through the National Development Plan for the development of regional airports and, while the reality is that Knock needs one third of this sum to upgrade landing and security facilities, local Dáil deputy John Carty is confident of a positive announcement in the coming weeks.
“It has been my main goal as a TD so see what I feel is the jewel in Mayo’s crown to be further developed and I told Brian Cowen that when he visited the airport last April. Money has been allocated directly by this Government already and Ministers Ó Cuív and Cullen, and indeed the Taoiseach himself, have taken a great interest. I have no doubt that more money will be allocated in the near future; it’s the logical next step to develop the facilities,” said Deputy Carty, who added that he was ‘proud’ that many of his own relatives could now fly into the county and travel just ten or 15 minutes by road to their home places.
“I have more relatives living in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago than I have in Ireland I would say, but that is the same for a lot of my generation. It is important to recognise that this service will be utilised not just by people from Boston and New York but by Irish communities all over America. These people have extremely close ties to the west of Ireland and I know for a fact that there will be large groups of Americans coming on pilgrimages to Knock from now on, especially elderly Americans of Irish extraction who do not want the hassle of flying into Dublin.”
Deputy Carty went on to say that he himself had a long association with the airport.
“I worked with Monsignor Horan when he was originally fund-raising for the idea and I know he would be a proud man if he was here today,” added Deputy Carty.
The leader of the opposition, Deputy Enda Kenny, took time out of his busy schedule to attend the launch and he said that the decision would have ‘profound consequences’ for the west and northwest, particularly in relation to the tourism industry as he feels ‘the surface has only been scratched so far’.
“I know the potential that is there in this region as I was Minister for Tourism. You have to remember that we have about 60% of the links golf courses in the world, Americans love to golf and to fish and now they can fly into the heart of the region and access these facilities on their doorstep.”
However, Deputy Kenny was unequivocal when making the point that substantial funding must be made available by the Government as a matter of urgency for upgrading of airport facilities and also for broadband in the area.
“The Government really have to get the finger out on this issue; we have the opportunity to attract big American industries to this area now but broadband is an absolute essential for business and it’s still missing from large chunks of this area in particular.
“This announcement can be the catalyst for so many things and in fairness Monsignor Horan’s dream is unfolding in a big way with announcements like this. I am proud of Joe Kennedy and his board for their magnificent efforts."

{mospagebreak title=Emigrant Reaction}
A happier journey home

Padraig Burns

WHEN Attracta Moffatt left her home in Carracastle 40 years ago to start a new life in Philadelphia, little did she think she would see the day when she’d be able to return home to an airport located within a short distance of her home.
Now Attracta O’Malley (she married Tom, whose father hailed from the Carrowkennedy area of Westport), when she heard the news from Knock Airport on Monday last she was absolutely delighted, if a little bit stunned by the development.
Apart from what it will mean to her and Tom when they plan their future visits to Ireland, Attracta is uniquely positioned to comment on what it will actually mean to Mayo people living and working in the States. In 1981, she was first woman to be elected President of the prestigious Philadelphia Mayo Association, a role that she has filled on four occasions in total. Her involvement with the organisation, and with every Irish society in the city, gives her a unique insight into the workings of the Irish community.
“It’s incredible news and it’s going to be brilliant for Mayo and the whole northwest of Ireland, right up as far as Donegal. We’ve been back and over to Ireland for years now and to think that the next time we go we’ll be able to land in our own county. It’s hard to describe how happy it makes me and I know that it will be the same for all Mayo people everywhere. When I heard the news, I was just so proud to be from Mayo and I think it’s one of the great days in the history of the county. Imagine what Monsignor Horan would have thought if he was still with us, though I am certain that he’s looking down very contentedly today on his legacy,’’ she said.
The practicalities of landing in Mayo and being close to home are what makes it especially appealing for Attracta. “Shannon was great but the reality of landing there was that it was often at 6am or 7am and that you’d have to sit in a car and drive for another couple of hours before you’d arrive in Mayo. Now, with the new arrangements at Knock, that will all be a thing of the past. It’s going to be great too for tourism in Mayo and Connacht and you’re going to see far more people visiting the county than ever before. Look what Shannon did for that region, well there’s nothing to stop this doing something similar for Mayo and Connacht. It’s fantastic,’’ she said.
Pat Bourke is a Donegal man who has lived and worked in Philadelphia for over 20 years. Happily settled there with his wife, Anne, and family, nevertheless they love to get home to Ireland as often as possible and the advantage of being able to land at Knock means that a couple of hours will be taken off their journey between Shannon and Donegal.
“It’s brilliant news, hard to believe really. We’ve been travelling home with the family for years now and to be honest, the worst part of the journey was when you’d land in Shannon and have to drive to Donegal. While we’ll still have to drive to Donegal now, at least the journey will be halved and it won’t be nearly as troublesome. There is also a very good road network between the airport and my native county,” he said.

{mospagebreak title=Knock Airport Timeline}
Ireland West Airport Knock – milestones

Airport idea first raised. Local parishioners approach newly-arrived Curate of Knock Shrine, Father James Horan, for help in building an airstrip for pilgrims. Father Horan approaches the Department of Transport for support. 

The idea gathers momentum following euphoria and publicity generated by Pope John Paul II’s visit to Knock Shrine. An Airport Development Committee is formed.

Feasibility study for a regional airport is completed. The Committee’s proposed ‘Connacht Regional Airport’ gets Government backing ‘in principle’. A 127-acre site is purchased at Barnalyra Barr na Cuige – four miles from Charlestown and ten miles from Knock in County Mayo.

May 2: Following Government approval, the first sod is cut by Albert Reynolds TD, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.

The first phase of runway is completed.

Huge fund-raising efforts to raise £3m shortfall commences.

The runway is completed - the second longest in Ireland at the time.
October 25: First commercial flights; three Aer Lingus Boeing jet aircraft (737s and a 707) flew to Rome.

Jim Mitchell, TD, Minister for Communications, granted approval for a full licence for the Airport.
May 30: The Airport is officially opened by Charles J Haughey, leader of Fianna Fáil. A huge crowd of 20,000 people turned out in support.
July 29: First transatlantic charter flies in from New York with 254 on board a Super 73 DC-8 jet.
August 1: Monsignor Horan dies in Lourdes.
Monsignor Dominick Grealy takes up role as Chairman and launches appeal for £1.5m funds. Twenty people employed.
December 16: new Irish airline, Ryanair, begins London – Luton route. Euroair starts Coventry route.

Duty Free shop is opened and claimed to be ‘the cheapest in Ireland’.
Connacht Aero Club is formed.

Within two years, annual passenger numbers exceed 100,000. For the next two years, numerous successful US charters flew into the Airport.
Ryanair adds Dublin, Birmingham, Gatwick and Manchester routes.

Extensions built to departures, check-in and restaurant areas. Ryanair network extends to Coventry, Leeds/Bradford and Stansted. Aer Lingus operates Dublin route. Charters operated to Dubrovnik, Stockholm, Lourdes and New York.

Charter flights to Paris and Lourdes, and from New York and Boston.
The first sod is cut for a factory to be built in the new industrial park.

Loganair commences flights to Manchester.
November 3: Airport is restructured as a Trust for the people of Mayo and Connacht.

1992 -1993
Ryanair commences route to the newly-opened London Stansted Airport. Loganair commence services to Birmingham and Glasgow
1995 - 1996
Aer Lingus operates its regular Birmingham service. Charters to Jersey and Zurich and inbound from Germany. Arrivals hall is extended.

Airfield lighting is upgraded to CAT 1 ILS. New access road completed by Mayo County Council.

MyTravelLite commences daily services to Birmingham. Dramatic increase in sun holiday charters to four European destinations as Stein Travel, Slattery’s Sun and Paul Claffey Tours are introduced.
Passenger numbers grow to 250,000.
Airport completes a new expanded departures area with additional check-in desks, an information centre, and lounge and shopping areas.

bmibaby begins daily service to Manchester.
Falcon JWT is introduced and the first snow and ski charters by Panorama jets off to Andorra.
Annual passenger numbers increased by 51% to 375,000.
Airport wins ‘Best Regional Airport Award’.
Airport employs over 120 people directly.
New arrivals area is completed, car hire facilities are improved and car parking spaces are increased to 1,000.

January 18: three-millionth passenger milestone reached.
Airport grows another 42% to reach over half a million (530,000) annual passengers.
Huge increase in annual holiday charter passengers to 55,000.
Airport’s Customer Services staff is voted No 1 in Europe by easyJet customers.
New daily UK services to Birmingham, London Luton and London Gatwick introduced by airlines bmibaby, easyJet and Ryanair.

Annual passenger numbers set to exceed 530,000.
Airport achieves CAT 9 fire-fighting capability when Minister Ó Cuív, TD, launches two new state-of-the-art Fire Tenders.
Summer: Over 60 flights each week to 20 destinations in UK and Europe such as Crete, Croatia, Cyprus and Salou.
New bmibaby route to Durham Tees Valley connects the West directly to North East UK.
Aer Arann flies to Dublin and new route network develops.
Oratory and reflection space is completed.
Airport wins ‘Best Regional Airport Award’ for second time in three years.
Tourists through the Airport spend €62 million in the region.
Airport employs 125 people directly and supports 1,000 jobs in the region.
Monsignor Dominick Grealy, who had been Chairman and member of the airport board for 20 years dies following a long illness.

January 29: announcement of the commencement of scheduled transatlantic flights to New York and Boston.