State funding of Galway and Sligo airports to end

 

STATE SUBVENTION for Galway and Sligo regional airports will cease from next year, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said yesterday. The move is expected to threaten the viability of both airports.

Mr Varadkar said he did not have sufficient funds to continue subsidising the regional operations and resources would now be concentrated on Knock, Waterford, Donegal and Kerry airports.

The cuts apply to operational and capital funding at Galway and Sligo airports. Mr Varadkar’s predecessor, Noel Dempsey, announced last January that most public-service obligation routes – a method of subsidising airlines which fly to regional airports – would also be discontinued. These routes are generally not viable but are considered vital for regional development. From July only one flight, the Donegal-Dublin route, is to be be supported.

Part of the reasoning behind the cuts are improved links between Dublin and the regions, with improved train and road services to Sligo and Galway. A memo circulated to Government departments last month said the cost of running small airports had increased considerably because of more stringent security requirements.The move comes on the 25th anniversary of Knock airport, which last year broke even, having been awarded an operational subsidy of €356,000 in July. The airport hopes to achieve 640,000 passenger trips this year and serves 25 international destinations.

Mr Varadkar said he would provide extra funding of about €5.9 million to the regional airports in 2011 and continue supporting Sligo and Galway until the end of the year. The €5.9 million comes on top of the €13.4 million already allocated to regional airports for this year by the last government, Mr Varadkar said.

Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West Éamon Ó Cuív said: “Air access is vital to the west of Ireland . . . to tourist and business interests there. Air access is a major issue for multinational companies.”