State urged to support regional airports that ‘don’t see an end in sight’

Routes which may not be profitable for three years vital to recovery, says FF Senator

Ireland West Airport Knock, in Co Mayo. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Ireland West Airport Knock, in Co Mayo. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Routes to regional airports may need additional supports from Government for three years, a Fianna Fáil Senator has said.

Timmy Dooley, formerly a TD for Clare, said that while, for many people, an end is in sight to the pandemic, “many businesses that have been dramatically affected don’t see an end in sight, and particularly that’s in the aviation and hospitality sector”.

He said that the Government is “going to have to provide additional route supports to ensure that our regional airports like Shannon, Cork and others are provided with funding to attract airlines onto routes that perhaps won’t be profitable for the next two to three years, but are vital for economic recovery in those regions.”

“It’s important the Government stands behind those regions,” Mr Dooley said.

Last November, the Government agreed a revised €80 million funding package for Irish aviation, with an extra €48 million in supports for 2021, in addition to those announced in Budget 2021.

The Department of Transport said it would provide further operational and capital funding supports of €22 million for Cork and Shannon Airport, while an additional €6 million would be made available for Knock, Kerry and Donegal airports.

Mr Dooley was speaking at the launch of a discussion paper from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party’s aviation, tourism and hospitality steering committee.

Cathal Crowe, the party’s spokesman on tourism and aviation, said the group had decided to draw up the report on how Covid-19 had impacted these sectors arising from discussions within the parliamentary party.

“This was an outcome of that, in terms of we felt there were deficiencies in terms of a medium to long-term outlook on aviation and tourism, hospitality,” he said. The report also calls for the reintroduction of a stay-and-spend style voucher scheme similar to that introduced last year, which saw limited uptake due to the reimposition of restrictive measures to control the spread of Covid-19 last autumn and winter.

“We’re particularly looking at the shoulder season, how to incentivise and support that,” Mr Crowe said.

“The weather won’t be as nice for outdoor dining, and that’s a particular space that hoteliers, bars and restaurateurs and those who work in the airlines are particularly worried about.”

While there were no costings attached to the scheme suggested in the report, the Clare TD said the current uptick in the hospitality sector driven by the relaxation of restrictions would need help to be sustained later in the year.

“There’s a vibrancy back, but that vibrancy will need State support and intervention in the autumn and into the winter.”