Time for Kerry Airport to learn to fly alone?

Cantillon: Farranfore, with 84 people, enjoys rail, bus and air links... and heavy subsidies

Aer Lingus regional plane: Kerry Airport exemplifies the Republic’s sub-standard ability to plan good transport solutions. Photograph: iStock

As Kerry Airport enters its 50th year in operation is it time for it to stand on its own two feet?

Recently filed accounts for the airport paint a familiar picture, in which its profit would quickly turn to red if Government funds were deducted. Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon; costs associated with running an airport – even a small one – are high.

But Kerry Airport stands out as a peculiar example of the Republic’s sub-standard ability to plan good transport solutions for its citizens.

The airport is located in Farranfore, a village with a population totalling 84 that has a train station and bus services in addition to the airport. It is effectively the best-connected area in this country with the three transport arms only a stone's throw from each other. One can't begrudge the 84 for their cosmopolitan transport solutions, but it clearly exemplifies how political clout caused a multiplicity of decisions that work well for only a tiny minority.

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Loss-making entities

Those in the region will argue that, for transport to Dublin, the plane is quicker than the train – but surely we shouldn’t be subsidising two loss-making inefficient entities, but rather make one above average.

They'll also argue that Kerry provides convenience considering Shannon is almost two hours away while Cork is just over an hour and a half. But that's not a good reason to fund the facility. By that logic, Longford, Carrick-On-Suir and Bailieborough should all have airports.

Just over 7 per cent of the State’s population used the airport last year – a year when six times the State’s population travelled through Dublin.

Keeping Kerry Airport in operation is becoming a Sisyphean task for the State. It’s a drain on finances that doesn’t necessarily provide the best service possible for the region.

Some suggest that with about 1.2 million passengers an airport can become operationally self-sufficient. Kerry would need to almost quadruple its passenger numbers for that to be a prospect. With such a prospect so far off, it’s undeniably clear that rail and road investment would be better.

So, as it reflects on its past 50 years, perhaps it’s time to let Kerry Airport fly solo.