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Cork airport working to reverse numbers decline

Thursday, 6th November, 2014 12:00am

Cork Chamber will be meeting Transport Minister Paschal Donohue soon to argue for urgent action to reverse route losses at Cork Airport and the decline in passenger numbers.

Head of Communications for Cork Airport, Kevin Cullinane, says that much of the passenger decline is down to the closure of the Cork-Dublin flight and that there are strongly looking at whether that route would be feasible again in the future.

"Yes, Cork's traffic has declined over the last five years but a lot of that is due to the loss of the Cork-Dublin flight." There were 500,000 people on 14 flights a day at its peak in 2008, he explains.

He says that a feasibility study is being run with Stobart Air (formerly Aer Arann) to see if it would be a worthwhile route now, after the motorway has cut travel time to Dublin. Kevin says that Stobart Air have said that they need a tangible effort to see that people will support them, so that it would be a viable, sustainable and profitable route.

He adds that Cork Chamber are acting as an "honest broker" and got 32 of the largest employers in Cork to go to Cork Airport to meet Stobart a few weeks ago.

Kevin says that the flight would primarily suit people trying to make connecting flights to the US from Dublin. This would allow people to book a Cork-New York or Cork-Boston flight on Aer Lingus. However people can do that with British Airways and KLM at the moment.

The Corkman also says that they have held talks with all regional airlines over the last two years and any trip that is under five hours drive is generally not worthwhile as a flight route.

A draft of the National Aviation Policy was published in May, the first ever civil aviation policy in Ireland, but Cork people have been left unhappy by the lack of mentions of Cork Airport, only seven in a 41 page document.

Cork Chamber have pointed out how heavily biased the document is towards Shannon and Dublin Airports. Cork Airport have responded with a draft submission, as have Cork Chamber.

"The competitive disadvantage we are at at the moment needs to be addressed. Cork Chamber, Cork Business Association and the Cork branch of the Irish Hotel Federation are supportive of our efforts.

"The Wild Atlantic Way starts 15 minutes away in Kinsale. If we are designated as as the southern gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way, it would help," he adds.

"We are not just Cork's airport," he says, "67 per cent of our passengers are resident in Ireland but 33 per cent are not. Tourism is an important industry. There are charters for Berlin, Salzburg and Madrid, so they are on the route map."

Passengers from provincial UK airports, are up 14 per cent while the biggest loss has been routes to Eastern Europe as Ryanair took them to Shannon.

Tourism Ireland is trying to attract culturally curious passengers, which suits Cork well, according to the Corkman. He also said that the airport strongly supports the application for the National Diaspora Centre.

"There is no point putting on a flight if we can't prove demand. We commissioned Red C to see where people are flying to and we also have access to Dublin figures to see where Corkonians are flying to.

"We are making the strongest possible case to get new routes to Cork. In the last month, the team met 21 airlines."

Kevin says that Cork Airport earn an average of €8.60 per passenger. After paying 250 staff, paying rates and costs, there is a small operating profit. From that, interest of €6m for the terminal is deducted, as is depreciation of €6m.

Ryanair's chief marketing officer Kenny Rogers said previously that Cork Airport charges the same as Dublin Airport but MR Cullinane denies this. "Our charges are 18 per cent cheaper than Dublin and lower than our European peers. We can't go lower than free in the first year. In the first five years, we earn €3.20 per passenger."

Even on a mature route like London, Cork Airport only earns around €8,   so revenues are very slight and margins are tight.

Kevin adds that Cork Airport receives no artificial incentives in the form of grants or subsidies. That is not the case for other regional airports. Shannon Airport's debt of €110m was written off and the airport was given the rent-roll of over €10m per annum after the airport became independent from the Dublin Airport Authority.

Mr Cullinane added that campaigns to restore routes or add new ones like the Brussels and Madrid campaigns are useful as they can help the airport to establish demand for routes, which they can use to attract airlines to service those routes.

He adds that Cork Airport has won two awards in the last 12 months for customer service, beating 61 other airports.

"We ask that people support their local airport. Eight out of ten Cork people have the airport as their airport of choice. We need to attract more Kerry, Tipperary and Waterford people too; 78 per cent of our customers are from Cork."

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