BAD news for Cork Airport. Passenger numbers have fallen since 2012, sending alarm bells ringing when Cork’s performance is compared to that of other Irish airports.
Shannon, for instance, has seen passenger numbers grow by 24% while Dublin is licking its chops, having surged ahead by a whopping 54% since 2012.
According to Dalton Philips, the Dublin Airport Authority’s chief executive, almost 30m passengers pass through the airport on a yearly basis, making it the busiest in Ireland ‘and the 14thbusiest in Europe’.
Last April he declared that the airport’s new runway would cost €320m and that it would be ‘the most important thing Ireland will build in a generation’. He expected the runway to be finished and in operation within four years.
Sadly, Cork Airport is a different kettle of fish. It’s the DAA’s poor relation, much to the indignation of cranky Corkonians who resent Dublin’s control of the lucrative airline trade (commercial and passenger). Indeed it is not without significance that the year 2012 became a benchmark to designate the progress of Dublin Airport and the decline of Cork.
2012 hangs around Cork Airport’s neck like an albatross with a psychological burden or curse.
It was in that year a firm of consultants with the fascinating moniker of Booz and Company (we’re not codding), produced a report that in the annals of Irish aviation was to have the most serious repercussions for Cork.
The Booz people, you see, were dead nuts against Cork Airport becoming an independent entity and recommended that it remain under the thumb of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA). This was not the case with Shannon Airport, which was granted independence from the DAA and given a generous €105m debt write-off.
That airport is now clawing its way back to profitability, largely by undercutting Cork.
Sadly, Cork Airport faces an uncertain future with its mainstay routes limited to Heathrow and Stansted and, at the same time, suffering from what former DAA chairman, Pádraig Ó Riordáin, described as ‘terminally declining traffic numbers’.
Leeside critics, generally of the Fianna Fáil persuasion, rightly or wrongly claim to see a political reason for the deterioration in Cork Airport’s fortunes. They allege that Vlad and the FG buckos are interpreting the 2012 Booz report in a politically charged way and are tacitly suggesting that the southern capital deserves to stew in Soldier of Destiny-induced misery because Fianna Fáil was responsible for the new terminal’s €120m debt.
Reinforcing the Fine Gael line is the fact that the DAA has barred Cork Airport from achieving independent status until the debt issue is resolved and passenger numbers recover.
On the other hand, more ‘level headed’ critics point out that the debt issue is being used to divert attention away from the main problem: the public isn’t using Cork Airport; and that the huge debt has no impact on day-to-day operations in Cork because it sits on the balance sheet of the Dublin Airport Authority, not Cork’s.
SCRAP THE DEBT
Whatever the facts, public perception is that the DAA burdened a gobsmacked Cork Airport with huge financial obligations that are now retarding its growth; and whereas Shannon was separated from the DAA and had its debt written down, Cork got the bum’s rush and now struggles to survive.
Hence the increasing Leeside demands for a government write-off or reduction of the debt to manageable levels.
In the meantime, Ireland South’s Duchess of Spin, Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune has been answering the call and doing her bit to draw attention to the declining fortunes of Cork Airport. She, too, is looking for solutions.
For instance, she did trojan work promoting US flights from Cork to New York and Boston (with varying and controversial levels of success) and, to her credit, she kept a remarkable stiff upper lip when Cork was snubbed and Dublin got the lion’s share of the American market.
ONE AIRPORT NATION?
Her strongest contribution to the current Airport debate was contained in a recent press release in which she dramatically warned that Ireland ‘must not become a one airport nation’. Rather courageously, she publicly ‘wondered’ if there was an equal focus on Cork and Shannon airports in terms of investment.
It was a relevant question, despite being timidly put. She said: ‘Cork and Shannon Airports are vital in the development of Southern and Western Ireland and we need to make sure the Government is focused on their futures, just as much as it is on Dublin Airport … We cannot allow Cork and Shannon Airports to be forgotten about.’
Which, in turn, raises this conundrum: Has Ms Clune temporarily forgotten that she is an important MEP who has a direct line to government and to her boss, Vlad the Impaler.
So when she uses the first person plural pronoun, the royal ‘we’, to whom is she referring? Herself? Or herself along with the Joe Blogs and the common plebs? Is she asking us to help her?
If so, perhaps she could tell us what to do, bearing in mind that the first item on any agenda would be to throw out a government that is turning a blind eye to the decline and fall of Cork Airport.
That said, Ms Clune is excellently placed to analyse the problems at the airport, having been given in 2014 the arduous task of EU Parliament shadow rapporteur on the laws and regulations surrounding baggage handling.
However, it goes without saying that if she’s to rescue Cork Airport, she’ll require a set of diagnostic skills different to those pertaining to the loading and unloading of passengers’ bags and cases.
But, jokes aside, what does she really mean by ‘Cork must not be forgotten about?’
The easiest way to answer that question is for her to up the ante and burst into boss-man Vlad’s Dáil sanctum sanctorum and inform him in no uncertain terms (preferably by wringing his neck) that Cork Airport is in trouble, and that she also will be in trouble electorally if the government doesn’t do something for the Real Capital’s struggling aerodrome. Immediately!
And now for something different. In light of the strikes, cancellations, anti-trade unionism, scorn and contempt deservedly heaped on Ryanair, perhaps Michael O’Leary might want to know how to make a small fortune running an airline?
Answer: Start out with a large one!