Rise in Dublin Airport numbers offers hope for crisis-hit sector

DAA’s Dalton Philips tells Inside Business podcast 32,000 passengers a day passing through

Dalton Philips, chief executive Dublin Airport Authority. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Dalton Philips, chief executive Dublin Airport Authority. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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Up to 32,000 passengers a day have been going through Dublin Airport since restrictions on air travel were lifted on July 19th, with load factors on aircraft climbing to 57 per cent, the chief executive of airport operator DAA has said.

Speaking to Inside Business, a podcast from The Irish Times, Dalton Philips said this was still only about a quarter of the level on equivalent days in 2019 but it offered encouragement for a rebound in the crisis hit sector.

“It’s way off the 100,000-plus that we would have every single day of the year [before Covid]...but there were days last year when we were in the low hundreds. So it’s a huge improvement,” he said.

Mr Philips said the airport’s shops have been operating at about 45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, with duty free on routes to Britain – reinstated since Brexit – proving popular.

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By the end of July, just one million people will have passed through Dublin Airport as a result of harsh restrictions that were in place in the first half of the year, including quarantine rules for passengers arriving from certain countries. Dublin handled a record 33 million people in 2019. “There could be 8-9 million passengers this year with a fair wind,” he said.

Mr Philips said the busiest routes out of Dublin at the moment are to London, Amsterdam and Chicago (where 6,300 people have either arrived or taken off on flights in the past seven days). This is in spite a ban on Irish people entering the US, unless they are either an American citizen or have a green card.

“There is huge pent-up demand from the [US] diaspora who weren’t able to get back,” he said, adding that load factors on some transatlantic flights have been as high as 70 per cent in recent days, compared with 10-15 per cent during lockdowns.

Dublin Airport served 25 cities in North America before Covid-19 hit but this was stripped back to just New York, Boston and Chicago during lockdown. Philadelphia has since been added by American Airlines.

About 20 per cent of Dublin Airport’s traffic was based around business fares and Mr Philips expressed concern about the future of this segment of the market.

“Business is clearly going to step back quite significantly, although it’s not clear where it will end up,” he said. “The real issue about business travel is that it has a disproportionate impact on the overall route economics. As we know, passengers who turn left when they get on an aircraft are paying significantly more and it supports those passengers turning right [to economy] on the aircraft.

“That would be a concern to me because some routes may not be viable because they have lost the business component. We need to see how that flows through.”