Cantillon: Policy on regional airports need revision

Improving infrastructure, and the IAG bid for Aer Lingus, has changed priorities

Perhaps it’s time for the Government to shift its policy focus to these facilities and away from handing cash to regional airports for which there is likely to be less need in the future

Perhaps it’s time for the Government to shift its policy focus to these facilities and away from handing cash to regional airports for which there is likely to be less need in the future

 

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport’s annual report, published this week, shows that the Government remains committed to funding regional airports, namely Donegal, Kerry, Knock and Waterford.

Last year, these airports received almost €13 million from the taxpayer to fund spending on their facilities, running costs and the public service obligation (PSO) – which subvents flights between Dublin and Kerry and Donegal.

Ironically, even though EU state aid rules prevent the Government from giving financial assistance to its own airports, Cork, Dublin and Shannon, up to recently they allowed it to support the regional airports that it does not own.

The EU’s position has changed and it now limits the type of supports that governments can give to such airports to investment in necessary areas such as security. This means that the State can continue to provide support for the regional airports, albeit once Brussels has approved any plans it may have. It is waiting for such approval from the EU Commission for this year’s spending proposals.

Stobart Air began flying the Dublin to Kerry and Donegal services in February.

However, even the Government’s own draft aviation policy agrees that the need for these facilities has dwindled as other transport links, specifically the Republic’s motorway network, have improved.

That policy has not been finalised, understandably given that IAG’s €1.36 billion bid for Aer Lingus has dominated the aviation policy agenda since December.

Such a takeover would change the aviation landscape considerably and the approach has highlighted the vulnerability of the State-owned regional airports, Cork and Shannon, to a reduction in their services to Heathrow.

Perhaps it’s time for the Government to shift its policy focus to these facilities and away from handing cash to regional airports for which there is likely to be less need in the future.

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