‘Strategic fund needed’ to boost Shannon passengers

Shannon Airport is the only one of the five major airports in the Republic to record an annualised drop in passengers — in its case by 5% — this year, writes Pádraig Hoare.

CSO figures show Dublin and Cork Airports grew by 6.3% and 3.2%, respectively, in the first nine months of 2017 compared to the same period last year, while Shannon decreased by 5.2% in the same period. Knock and Kerry grew by almost 2% each.

Dublin accounted for more than 60,500, or 82.5%, of all flights, while Cork handled just over 6,000 or 8.3% of all flights.

A spokesman for Shannon Airport claimed the CSO figures did not take its “significant transit business” into consideration, which accounted for 9% of its passengers.

“This segment of the business has growth 80% year-to-date thanks to additional frequencies from Kuwait Airways. When this is factored in, our total passenger numbers this year will be on a par with 2016, despite some capacity reductions on both Stansted and Manchester,” he said.

These reductions are largely as a result of the fall-out from Brexit, the spokesman said.

“With sterling now down about 13% against the euro from where it was prior to the Brexit vote, UK passengers are travelling less abroad and this is reflected in the UK visitor numbers as reported by Tourism Ireland and the CSO,” he said.

He said overall, Shannon has enjoyed a 25% increase in passenger numbers since separation in 2013, despite a very competitive operating environment.

Regional airports like Shannon were in danger of “dwindling away until they become commercially unviable” unless a specific strategic fund was put in place to combat Dublin’s dominance, the chief executive of Limerick Chamber said.

James Ring said Dublin accounting for more than 80% of all flights was clearly a sign that regional imbalance was growing.

“If we are serious about regional development and balance, then we have to recognise that it hinges on the success of our airports. Foreign direct investment is massively important for the Shannon region and the airport has always been one of the big selling points. A strategic fund is needed to shore up routes that may be loss-making during some months of the year,” he said.

Mr Ring said a model where Frankfurt was the busiest airport but only the fifth biggest city showed the German government took regional development seriously.

“Obviously we are not Germany but there are lessons to be learned. If we accept Dublin Airport is going to keep on growing, then the likes of Shannon and Cork will dwindle away until they become commercially unviable,” he said.


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