´Cork Airport can act as an engine for growth´
Having an airport minutes from the city centre is a resource that many European cities would be envious of. In Cork airport, we have an enormous resource that, if maximised, can be used to drive investment, growth and tourism in Cork.
Every week, I speak to young aspiring local entrepreneurs who are investing in Cork and doing their business all over Europe and the United States. Companies like Trustev who are based in Cork but have extensive business dealings in the US.
These companies spend a lot of time travelling to meet customers, clients, investors. They depend upon the ability to connect with the world quickly and efficiently.
The Cork economy is the centre for the Pharmaceutical industry in Ireland, an industry that generates local Cork jobs and billions in direct and indirect revenue for the Irish economy.
A successful regional airport is one based on having viable and efficient ways for Corks business community to connect with their investors, vendors and customers. Our airport can act as an engine for growth and recovery as Cork rebuilds her local economy and gets people back to work. A new thriving and confident business community in Cork needs a well-connected airport.
Similarly, Cork Airport can drive tourism growth into the Southern region. 73% of tourists from Europe come via air travel. The Wild Atlantic Way has been an enormously popular tourist initiative that maps out a route from Donegal down the West coast of Ireland to Kinsale in Cork. The availability of more flights and a concerted effort and cooperation from tourism bodies to bring tourists into the Cork region can generate more hotel stays, more spending in restaurants and ultimately more jobs for our young people.
That is why I was disappointed to hear from Aer Lingus last week that they intend to suspend their Cork Brussels flights and some other related flights for the winter. The Brussels route is one of a number of important flights that connect the Cork community with the administrative and cultural heart of Europe.
Cork airport will cater for 2.2 million passengers in 2013, serving over 50 destinations. This has come down from a high of 3.3 million passengers in 2008. It is this decline in passenger numbers that we must address immediately.
The airport has a current capacity to deal with up to 4 million passengers every year since the new terminal building was opened in 2006. This terminal cost almost 100 million.
Cork airport authority plc was incorporated in 2004 with the intention by the then government, of which Michael Martin was a member, of moving relatively quickly to the separation of Cork airport from the DAA. This never happened. It was never envisaged that the company would remain in existence for a decade without the airport being separated from the DAA. The board of Cork airport authority has existed only in skeleton form for some time. Even in the period before that, when a board was in place, there were significant corporate governance concerns on the part of directors about being on a board in such circumstances. This allowed the airport to coast along in a state of paralysis.
At the beginning of this summer, the State airports bill was brought through Leinster house by Leo Varadkar whereupon he ended this abnormal situation. Now Cork airport can move forward.
An expanding airport in Cork with links to important cities such as Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, London and beyond is critical for the future development of the Cork area. Holiday sun destinations account for 21% of Cork airport traffic. Side by side with servicing holiday destinations, we need to grow and maintain links to important business hubs in Europe. In short, Cork needs new routes.
I have met with Cork Airport management on many occasions to discuss the future plans for development at Cork airport. In fact, I am meeting with management again this coming Friday. Cork airport management are targeting passenger numbers of 2.8 million by 2017. They have made over 50 pitches for new routes in 2013 and attended all major European airline marketing route events. They also have plans to take on key staff to promote the airport and fight for new routes. I know that management are working hard to bring new passengers to Cork. One of the more important initiatives at the airport is the formation of the Development Council, a group which consists of 16 members chaired by DAA chairman Padraig O Riordain, who will meet to give perspectives from the business community, local authority and other such interested parties. They first met in March of this year and continue to meet on a regular basis.
I have been in regular contact with the Minister for Transport on the issue. We are due to discuss Cork airport again this week and I am meeting with Kevin Toland, Chief Executive of the Dublin Airport Authority this week in Dublin. We have to start ensuring that Cork airport is top of the agenda. The challenges that face Cork airport are many but we cannot allow the focus to dissipate. We must continue to focus on the potential of a city with an airport on its doorstep. We must continue to get the community involved in the development of the airport.
We need continued cooperation between Cork County Council, local tourism bodies, Cork politicians and the people of Cork to ensure that we develop a top class viable airport in Cork.
As well as this, the airport needs a new focus on building relationships with airlines and to closely examine passenger demand to identify popular and necessary routes. Cork airport has the potential to become part of the economic success of Cork but this wont happen without the backing of the community in Cork.
Many of the legacy issues that held Cork Airport back in the past are now being dealt with. I am confident that the future is now bright for Cork airport. If we maintain the current path and continue to work together the airport can become an integral part of the economic infrastructure of Cork. It is a challenging time for the airport business and management in Cork Airport are working to ensure that new routes deliver connectivity. We will not turn this around overnight but rather through hard work, dialogue and cooperation. In time, we will judge management on their performance but right now we need to maintain our course. Management at the airport are aware of the challenges that face them and are up to that task.