Support needed to ensure future of Cork Airport

Support needed to ensure future of Cork Airport
Passengers at an empty Cork Airport. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Calls have been made for Cork Airport to be admitted to the Regional Airport Capital Funding Programme.

Ray Gray, Chief Financial Officer with daa which runs Cork and Dublin Airports, told the Dáil’s Covid Committee that the airport plays a “critical role” in serving the South of Ireland, but its revenue has all but disappeared.

He said “specific support” is needed and a “specific mechanism will be required to offset essential operating costs and incentivise route development”.

Mr Gray called for Cork Airport to be admitted to the €72 million funding programme for regional airports, as best estimates show that passenger numbers through Cork will fall to less than 1 million from 2.6million last year.

Meanwhile, it’s expected passenger numbers at Dublin Airport will fall to 9 million from 32.9 million last year.

“Keeping our airports open, with minimal traffic, has meant we are incurring significant costs - losing around €1 million per day.

“Worryingly, almost every expert is predicting a slow and protracted recovery for the industry,” Mr Gray said.

He also pointed out that the Green List countries represent just 9% of normal traffic.

“Given current load factors and frequencies, even if every seat on a green list flight was sold, we wouldn’t add much more than 100k to the passenger numbers currently flying in any month – which is less than a single normal day,” Mr Gray said.

Empty Check In area at Cork Airport.Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Empty Check In area at Cork Airport.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

He suggested looking at the possibility of passengers from non-green list countries having to take a Covid-19 test 72 hours or less before travel, and submit proof of a negative test prior to travel.

Miriam Ryan, Head of Strategy with daa, has said testing passengers for Covid-19 on arrival would be "challenging".

She told the Dáil Covid-19 committee: "It presents challenges when it comes to space for holding passengers and where you keep them while they are being tested, and the availability of reagents when it comes to testing and the availability of suitability-qualified staff to undertake that testing.

"There are a lot of challenges when it comes to testing passengers on arrival so we have already mentioned the opportunity to test the passenger before they leave their country, so that the first line of defence will be testing on exit so that passengers arrive here that have already been tested.

"They can show to the airline that they have been tested and a certificate to say they have been tested, and can show it to the border management unit in airports and ports."

Ms Ryan has said the strategy of testing passengers before they leave a country has been trialled in Austria and some states such as Hawaii and Alaska.

Meanwhile, Mr Gray also reiterated that Cork and Dublin Airports are not involved in the collection of any information in relation to people's PPS numbers or if they are on the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP).

It comes amid controversy over more than 100 people having their PUP cut off following checks at airports.

Mr Gray told the Dáil’s Covid Committee: "That information might be obtained at the airport by other authorities.

"I have no personal or professional information regarding who collects this data on passengers."

Asked if he knew when passengers were checked at airports to see if they are on the PUP, he said: "Regrettably, deputy, I am unable to assist you with your enquiry in this regard ... if there is information that is being collected then those parties that are collecting the information, be it through the State or other parties that operate at airports."

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