Travel agents disappointed by temporary Cork runway closure

Business leaders however say closing facility when passenger numbers are low makes sense

The runway at Cork Airport will be closed for about 10 weeks. Photograph: Cork Airport

The runway at Cork Airport will be closed for about 10 weeks. Photograph: Cork Airport

 

Travel agents have expressed disappointment that Cork Airport is to close for ten weeks in the autumn to allow major reconstruction work take place on its main runway and questioned why the work could not have been scheduled to take place prior to the summer season.

Irish Travel Agents Association chief executive Pat Dawson said the decision to close Cork Airport from September 12th until November 22nd was badly timed as it would prevent the airport capitalising on an expected surge in demand for holidays later this year as Ireland emerges from the Covid-19 lockdown

“We are very disappointed to hear that Cork Airport will be closed for almost three months later this year … while we understand that it is essential to have the runways resurfaced, this is a long standing issue which should have been addressed before now.

“We believe there will be a pent up demand for travel in September and October, with many people looking to travel abroad for the first time since the start of the pandemic particularly as they receive their vaccinations against Covid-19.

“With so few people using the airport at the height of the pandemic, it would have been easy to work flight schedules around completing the runway upgrades in order to allow the airport to reopen when the threat of Covid-19 has passed.”

Mr Dawson said travel agents, such as the ITAA’s 100 members will be negatively impacted by the closure because due to the runway upgrade, it is now looking like they will have “no product to sell from Cork Airport until 2022”.

Earlier this week, Cork Airport head of communications Kevin Cullinane confirmed to The Irish Times that the airport would remain open during the summer months before closing to allow reconstruction of its main runway, Runway 16/34 to be completed in time for the Christmas period.

Mr Cullinane said the decision to fully close the airport for ten 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 to 2.6 million in 2019.

“With passenger numbers currently down 97per 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.”

While the ITAA expressed disappointment at the news that Cork Airport is to close for ten weeks to allow the runway reconstruction take place, Cork Chamber took a more sanguine view with chief executive Conor Healy saying opting to close the airport in the autumn was the best option.

“The airport would have engaged with us as part of the process of making their decision – there is no good time to close an airport but if you are to close an airport to undertake necessary works the best time to do it is when you have a very low level of air travel, the lowest in recent memory,” he said.

“While it will cause some inconvenience for the very minimal amount of air travel that will be taking place over that period of time, it’s certainly is a preferred option over the level of disruption that would have been required in 2022 when the works would have needed to be done in any case.

“At the end of this process, we will have essential works that needed to be undertaken on the runway completed and that will ensure that the airport is fully ready for the anticipated uplift in activity in both business and leisure in 2022 which is obviously very important.”

Chair of the Cork Branch of the Irish Hotels Federation, Fergal Harte took a similar view regarding the proposed closure, saying that most hotel operators in the region had already braced themselves for few international visitors this year due to the global impact of Covid-19.

“The reality is that tourism businesses generally aren’t banking on any significant numbers of overseas visitors this year anyway so next year hopefully will be a very different story but the focus on the immediate term is on the domestic market,” he said.

“As a gateway to this region, Cork Airport is a key component of our tourism infrastructure – the international connectivity that it offered pre-Covid contributed enormously to the growth of tourism in the county and in the wider region.

“A fully operational airport with regular connections to our key markets in 2022 is going to be vital to aid the recovery of tourism and presumably the proposed works will help to ensure that – the sooner it’s done the better from our point of view.”

Cork is a major hub for the pharmachem sector with several world leaders having operations in Ringaskiddy and elsewhere around Cork but Matt Moran, director of BioPharmaChem with Ibec, said that he didn’t expect the closure to have any major impact on executive travel.

“Most of the pharmachem companies we represent are in travel lockdown at the moment and they are focusing on their operations so I wouldn’t expect the closure of Cork Airport in the autumn to impinge hugely – I certainly haven’t heard anyone expressing concern about the proposed closure.”