Cork Airport to close for 10 weeks to allow major runway reconstruction
Drop in passenger numbers provides ‘unique opportunity’ to carry out work faster
Management at Cork Airport had originally planned to complete the runway project by night over a nine-month period in 2022 and 2023. Photograph: Cork Airport
Cork Airport will close for 10 weeks this autumn to carry out a reconstruction of its main runway, availing of the drop in passenger numbers due to Covid-19.
Cork Airport head of communications, Kevin Cullinane, confirmed to The Irish Times that the airport will close fully from September 10th to November 22nd to allow the reconstruction work on the airport’s Runway 16/34 be completed in time for the busy Christmas period.
“We will open this summer for whatever flights are operating and we will then complete the runway project over a short 10-week off-peak period, allowing us to reopen for what we plan will be a busy Christmas and a bumper 2022,” said Mr Cullinane.
Mr Cullinane said the decision to fully close the airport for 10 weeks stemmed from the fact that passenger numbers at Cork had dropped significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic with just 200,000 passengers predicted to pass through the airport this year compared with 2.6 million in 2019.
“With passenger numbers currently down 97 per cent it makes prudent business sense to fast-track major capital investment projects now while the airport is extremely quiet,” said Mr Cullinane, adding that it was originally scheduled to carry out the work by night over nine months in 2022 and 2023.
“However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have a unique opportunity where we can close the runway for a much shorter 10-week period this autumn, in a shoulder period after the summer, and get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“This will save considerable time and money, is much safer in construction and aeronautical terms, and impacts a fraction of the annualised 200,000 passengers we predict in 2021 rather than the 1.5 million we predict for 2022 or the 2.6 million to 2.8 million we would have in a normal year.”
Mr Cullinane said that Cork Airport management have also decided to avail of the fall off in passenger numbers to carry out an upgrade of the hold baggage screening security system which will be commissioned this June in time for whatever flights operate during the summer season.
He explained that Cork Airport’s only jet-capable runway was built in 1961 and was originally 1,883m long but was extended by a further 300m in 1989. Since then, however, it has only undergone significant investment in 1999 when an overlay was put on the original runway.
“Therefore the pavement on the original runway is now 21 years old and the pavement on the extension is 31 years old, and a runway like Cork, that is in constant use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 364 days a year, degrades over time and needs reconstruction,” he said.
Mr Cullinane said that typically Cork Airport has more than 22,000 commercial landings annually while it also facilitates thousands of smaller aircraft each year and, like any busy runway, will develop deep structural cracks over time with foreign-object debris becoming an ongoing potential hazard.
“Cork Airport’s runway has been kept safely operational through a programme of daily foreign-object debris checks and a programme of remedial repair works which has been carried out annually for several years,” he said.
Mr Cullinane said runways are subject to heavy regulation from both the Irish Aviation Authority and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, and Cork Airport was undertaking “these works in good faith to remediate and upgrade the infrastructure”.
“The reality is the runway at Cork Airport is now life expired and now needs significant investment to extend its life for another 15 years. This is a project that every airport has to undertaken on its runway or runways every 15-20 years,” he said.
The work on the Cork runway will involve a 150mm structural overlay including pavement repairs as well as an upgrading of airfield ground lighting in terms of both runway edge and centreline lighting to LED and the replacement of secondary cabling and transformers.
Mr Cullinane said that currently only Aer Lingus and KLM are operating services into Cork, and airport management had engaged extensively with them on the proposed 10-week closure and they will suspend sale of flight tickets to Cork for that period.
“We have engaged extensively with our airline customers and stakeholders and the vast majority agree with our approach, acknowledging, as we do, that no option comes with zero impact to operations,” he said.
“We have carefully examined the options and we are opting for the best solution possible. It has the lowest airline and passenger impact, it is safer from an aviation and construction perspective, it is more secure from an aviation security perspective and is substantially cheaper to construct.”
Mr Cullinane said the airport, which is owned by the DAA, has been following European Union procurement procedures since last November and it hopes to appoint a contractor next month to carry out the reconstruction works.
“We are conscious that the alternative approach would reduce base operational capacity/efficiency by 20-40 per cent in what should be a recovery year of 2022 . . . and the added advantage of getting it done now in 2021 is that the months of June, July and August are unaffected,” he said.
“We will be strategically positioned to reopen aggressively in December to ensure that our airline customers can face into 2022 ready to regrow their business, get people back to work at our airports and in the skies, and Cork Airport can return to being the fastest-growing airport in the country.”