Local business people value the airport’s part in their success and are keen to see it growing, they tell Siobhán Cronin
KINSALE businessman and accountant Cormac Fitzgerald says he believes that some ‘joined-up thinking’ with the various stakeholders is key to the future of Cork Airport.
Welcoming the positives that have been announced in recent months, including new routes and talk of a return to passenger growth in 2016, Mr Fitzgerald noted that city-based TD Michael McGrath, the Fianna Fail finance spokesperson, has recently warned that the airport needs ‘radical new supports’.
But he said he was heartened to hear European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy comment that Cork Airport should position itself as a global aircraft leasing hub to take advantage of the multibillion euro industry.
‘This seems like a good suggestion,’ he said, ‘especially in light of the recently-closed deal with Weston Aviation to open a new business aviation centre at the airport’.
‘Given the success of Failte Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, it just goes to show what some joined-up thinking can do,’ he added, and noted that the European air trade body had been asked to review its sampling procedures to include Cork Airport, after the latest report showed Dublin was one of the fastest growing airports in Europe.
The airport’s proximity to Kinsale has meant that Fitzgerald’s home town is very reliant on the success of the facility. ‘At only 20 minutes away, Kinsale has attracted a lot of international business clientele who commute via Cork Airport. And Kinsale is also a town reliant on tourism, so it is keen to grow, with the airport, into the future.’
Fellow townsman Virgil Horgan, of Hegarty Horgan solicitors, and a man involved in many local organisations, says that not just Kinsale, but the whole of West Cork, benefits hugely from having the airport on our doorstep.
‘If the airport closed or was downgraded, it would have a detrimental effect on employment and tourism in the region. It would take millions out of the economy each year,’ he said. ‘I know a lot of people who live in the Cork region and commute to work in London or elsewhere in the UK on a Monday morning, and fly back on a Thursday night. Without the airport, these people would not be living in the Kinsale area.’
As Kinsale is the start and end mark on the Wild Atlantic Way, a lot of people are using Cork Airport to either commence or finish their Wild Atlantic Way holiday, he pointed out. ‘And a lot of people from overseas visit Kinsale via Cork Airport right throughout the year. We have a whole range of tourist-related events which bring people to the town, such as the Kinsale Rugby 7s, Sovereigns Cup, Vintage Car weekend, Point-to-Point, Kinsale Regatta and the Gourmet Festival. All these events would lose out dreadfully if the airport was closed or downgraded,’ he pointed out.
Des O’Dowd of Inchydoney Island Resort in Clonakilty says that while the airport is strategically very important to the area, the hotel ‘would like to see more traffic coming in through the airport’.
While a lot of Inchydoney’s visitors are domestic, there are still a good number from abroad, but Mr O’Dowd says he would welcome more routes from Europe into Cork, as the region has so much to offer.
‘From travelling abroad myself, I am convinced that Ireland , and particularly West Cork, has a great reputation, but the connections have to be made. A lot of our overseas guests come here for short-stay holidays and they are not going to come to Cork if they have to fly in through Dublin.’
‘We, in Inchydoney, are not dependant on Cork Airport, but we would like to be more dependant on it. We would like to see more traffic coming to us that way. We have a wonderful product in West Cork,’ he added.
One of the sectors which has benefitted hugely from the airport is the auctioneering profession.
The proximity of properties to Cork Airport is a consideration for most purchasers, evidenced by adverts and brochures which invariably highlight the distance to and from the facility.
An independent Cork Airport would have much greater clout than the current one which is under the wing of the DAA, says Skibbereen auctioneer Charlie McCarthy. ‘They should have given the old terminal to Michael O’Leary,’ he suggested. ‘If they were independent, they could go out and attract more business and deal with Michael O’Leary, the way Shannon did once they got their autonomy.’
And he wondered how Shannon managed to get a debt-free status before being hived off from its former parent: ‘Would it be anything to do with the fact the Minister for Finance is from Limerick?’
He said that of the substantial number of sales made through his firm last year, over 50% were from the UK – a marked improvement on other years.
‘It’s to do with currency, with lifestyle, and with connectivity through Cork Aiport. We always tell people we are two hours from Heathrow.’
And he said suggestions that the lack of a customs pre-clearance in Cork would hinder transatlantic travel was irrelevant, as the airport should be targeting tourists coming in from the US, and not Irish passengers wishing to travel to the US. ‘I don’t think they have looked at transatlantic enough,’ he said. ‘The airport needs to be upgraded, have traffic increased, and be autonomous.’
‘Right through the deepest of the recession, overseas buyers were still to be found viewing and buying property in West Cork,’ noted Clonakilty auctioneer Henry O’Leary. ‘The region has a larger percentage of overseas buyers than most areas of the country, and while it could be argued that it is the natural beauty of the area that is the big attraction, the truth could very well be that one of the carrots for overseas buyers, buried under all that natural beauty is, in fact, Cork Airport.’
Auctioneer John Hodnett of Hodnett Forde in Clonakilty agrees: ‘We find that many people who come to view houses from abroad have already done their homework and know the distance to Cork Airport.’ He revealed that in a recent sale of a house in West Cork, five bidders had come in through Cork Airport.
‘Some purchase with a view to commuting as well,’ said John’s colleague, Ernest Forde, who said that the UK was, once again, a huge market for West Cork property. ‘People are looking for value for money and sterling is helping now.’
Both men agreed that the closure of the Cork to UK ferry service meant the airport was even more important now.
‘A lot of people buying here now from the UK are second generation Irish, but the domestic market is still strong too,’ said John.
‘Air connectivity is a crucial lifeline to UK buyers, many knowing that a move here can mean that they will see family and friends on a regular basis because Cork Airport is so user friendly with very little delays,’ said Henry O’Leary.
‘Now that the exchange rate is very favorable for UK buyers, there is more demand than ever before for property here, this also means that there is more demand from more areas of the UK for a direct air connection with Cork for family and friends. Every visitor to the area will spend money in the area, the knock-on effect is that every business in the area – from restaurants to retail – will have a few extra euro that may well not be there but for the airport.’
Estate agent Pat Maguire in Skibbereen says West Cork has proved a magnet for UK and continental buyers as far back as the 1960s. ‘It’s the gateway to West Cork for UK buyers – only one hour’s flight away – and for Continentals, primarily the Germans, Dutch and French, it is less than a two-hour flight. With the airport on the western side of the city, West Cork is a mere 60 mins down the N71.’
‘To those from abroad, West Cork offers the antithesis of their homeland – the peace and tranquillity, space and fresh air, rugged landscapes and dramatic scenery and most of all friendly, respectful natives,’ he said. ‘Many buyers have holidayed here and a lot of them have bought holiday homes and some have moved permanently. This positive immigration brought numerous benefits for West Cork – financially, political, culturally and socially. The contributions made by those who came here immeasurably benefited West Cork and its people. This enormous social change has been made possible by the development and continued growth of Cork Airport.’
He added that, like all sectors, West Cork’s property market was seriously hit by the recent recession. ‘However, UK and some Continental buyers continued to come and purchase during those years. They were attraced by a weakened euro and excellent value, but the continued success of Cork Airport, whilst the ferries failed, ensured a steady trail. As our property markets improve, the number of purchasers from outside the state continues to thrive.’
Pat Maguire estimated that approximately 35% of all his purchasers in 2014/2015 came from outside Ireland. ‘The knock-on effect of this – not only in the property sector, but in add-on services and sales, is hugely positive for a relatively remote region. There are many issues which we should exercise as West Corkonians, particularly with a general election in the offing, but the most significant, cultural and economic issue for us is the survival, further development and continued growth of Cork Airport.’
WHY CORK AIRPORT WILL ALWAYS BE SPECIAL TO ME
By Siobhan Cronin, News Editor
CORK Airport holds a special place in my heart. And not just because, like many Cork people, it’s associated with winging my way to a foreign holiday or a weekend break.
But because the airport WAS that weekend destination so often for me – well, at least the Sunday drive destination.
Since I can remember, Sunday drives with my Dad either consisted of a trip to a beach, a relation’s house – or an airport.
When I was born my Dad worked at Ballygireen Radio Station in Co Clare – the communications arm of Shannon Airport.
And on Sunday afternoons, when the weather didn’t warrant a beach trip, and we needed a break from the relations, it was a case of ‘let’s go to Shannon.’ My Dad’s love of aviation and all things flight-related was soon passed on to me, and by the time he had been promoted to a role at Cork Airport, I was already hooked.
I adored my trips to his office in the (now defunct)tower, and getting a bird’s eye view of the runway. He often tried to teach me Morse Code – the language of his early career – but I didn’t have the patience or interest in what I saw as an ‘ancient’ means of communication. I preferred listening to his stories of babies being born on transatlantic flights while doctors gave instructions over the airwaves to frantic crews, or the celebrities that visited Shannon and, a little less often, Cork.
He loved working in Cork Airport. He had returned to his native city after decades away, and made great new friends there. There seemed to be a great camaraderie amongst the staff, and a great buzz of excitement about the place.
We slagged him when he once remarked that my sister’s boyfriend – who was working there too – was ‘in the café every time I go there’. We pointed out he must have been pretty fond of his own coffee breaks to have noticed!
We slagged him, too, about all the days the airport was closed due to fog. In the days before more advanced landing systems, it seemed to be a constant issue every winter.
To a young teenager, it also seemed like a wonderfully glamorous place to be. I longed to be just like my Dad and work there someday. I looked on jealously as my older sisters got jobs in Shannon’s glitzy Duty Free shops every summer.
But I never got to work near him. And my Dad passed away just a month after he retired from his beloved job, in 1987 – and all his dreams of jetting off to interesting destinations, with my mum at his side, were left in the clouds.
To this day, I get a little frisson of excitement every time I visit Cork – or any – airport.
And while the old control tower now stands abandoned, harbouring happy memories from my teenage years, the smart new terminal dominates the skyline – holding the possibility of adventures for a whole new generation.