Air­ports fac­ing win­ter col­lapse

■ Jobs at risk as air­line set to close Cork and Shan­non bases

Irish Examiner - - Front Page - Eoin English, Pádraig Hoare, and Ea­mon Quinn

The avi­a­tion in­dus­try is on its knees Mary Con­si­dine, CEO of Shan­non Group

Cork and Shan­non air­ports are “on their knees” and will need mas­sive State sup­port to sur­vive the win­ter, air­port bosses have warned.

Ryanair has con­firmed it will close its bases at both air­ports for the win­ter sea­son fol­low­ing the col­lapse of in­ter­na­tional travel.

The de­ci­sion, de­scribed in both re­gions as “dev­as­tat­ing”, puts the jobs of up to 60 Ryanair pi­lots, cabin crew, and engi­neers based at Cork Air­port, and a fur­ther 55 air­line staff based at Shan­non, at risk.

Added to this, Aer Lin­gus is con­tin­u­ing a re­view of its op­er­a­tions in Cork and Shan­non.

It em­ploys 350 peo­ple at the two air­ports.

Both air­ports will now op­er­ate skeleton flight sched­ules in the months ahead — a sit­u­a­tion that will have a huge im­pact on the lo­cal economies, threat­en­ing the fu­ture of hun­dreds of other jobs in the avi­a­tion sup­ply chain net­work, and thou­sands more in the tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tors.

Mary Con­si­dine, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Shan­non Group, said avi­a­tion is on its knees and des­per­ately needs a clear path to re­cov­ery.

Ms Con­si­dine said that State sup­ports are needed to en­sure the air­ports can re­cover next March.

Cork Air­port manag­ing di­rec­tor Niall MacCarthy said they did every­thing in their power to re­tain the Ryanair base, but that many Ryanair flights to and from Cork have been op­er­at­ing with fewer than 10 pas­sen­gers on board.

De­spite con­cerns that Cork Air­port may close at quiet times given the dras­tic re­duc­tion in the level of sched­uled flights, Mr MacCarthy said it will con­tinue to sup­port search-and-res­cue op­er­a­tions and Air Corps flights, as well as mede­vac, or­gan donor, and sim­i­lar flights.

Cork Air­port to­day marks the 59th an­niver­sary of its first com­mer­cial flight and of­fi­cial open­ing, but the air­port is now left with just five routes — down from 53 in Jan­uary.

Ryanair, which has had a base at Cork Air­port since 2005 and which has be­come the air­port’s big­gest car­rier, flew about 1.3m of Cork Air­port’s 2.6m pas­sen­gers last year.

It has ac­counted for about 81% of the air­port’s traf­fic so far this year.

Air­port man­age­ment has stressed that Ryanair will con­tinue to op­er­ate its ser­vices from Cork to Lon­don Stansted, and to the Pol­ish cities of Ka­tow­ice and Gdansk over the win­ter sea­son.

How­ever, Cork Air­port is now fac­ing the kind of pas­sen­ger num­bers it last saw in the early 1960s.

The Gov­ern­ment has been urged to opt in quickly to the EU’s new ‘traf­fic light’ sys­tem on in­ter­na­tional travel and to ap­prove a low­cost, rapid- re­sult Covid- 19 test­ing regime at Ire­land’s air­ports.

Cork Cham­ber CEO Conor Healy said Ryanair’s de­ci­sion will be “hugely damaging for re­gional and na­tional con­nec­tiv­ity” and raises very real con­cerns about the air­port’s abil­ity to avoid clo­sure with­out fur­ther di­rect fi­nan­cial sup­port from Gov­ern­ment.

“Be­yond this, a firm com­mit­ment to EU travel stan­dards, and most im­por­tantly the abil­ity to im­ple­ment proac­tive travel- test­ing with­out de­lay, re­mains acute and es­sen­tial,” said Mr Healy.

“If Cork Air­port can­not stay on its feet, sup­ports for tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity an­nounced in the bud­get can only be par­tial and tem­po­rary at best.”

Labour’s Sean Sher­lock raised his con­cerns in the Dáil again yes­ter­day.

The Cork East TD said the €10m al­lo­ca­tion in the bud­get to the air­ports was wel­come, but it was not enough, and he said a de­ci­sion to opt into the EU traf­fic light sys­tem must be made im­me­di­ately.

Tá­naiste Leo Varad­kar said the Gov­ern­ment wants to see planes fly­ing, air­ports busy, and avi­a­tion work­ers back at work as soon as is pos­si­ble.

“And for that rea­son, the Gov­ern­ment next week will con­sider whether we opt into the EU sys­tem which was agreed at a Euro­pean level only this week,” said Mr Varad­kar.

“While that isn’t go­ing to get planes fly­ing again over the win­ter pe­riod — be­cause they prob­a­bly shouldn’t be — this at least means that if the pan­demic goes back into re­treat, that we will have a safe sys­tem in place for the sum­mer pe­riod.”

Pas­sen­ger fig­ures at Cork Air­port are set to plunge to 1960s lev­els fol­low­ing Ryanair’s con­fir­ma­tion yes­ter­day of the win­ter clo­sure of its Cork base.

The de­ci­sion by the air­port’s big­gest cus­tomer will leave the air­port with just five routes — down from over 50 this time last year at a time when pas­sen­ger num­bers grew 8% to 2.6m.

Ryanair, which blamed its d e c i s i o n o n t h e G o ve r n - ment’s “mis­man­age­ment of EU air travel”, will con­tinue to op­er­ate ser­vices from Cork to Lon­don Stansted, and to the Pol­ish cities of Ka­tow­ice and Gdansk.

While Aer Lin­gus has said it is con­tin­u­ing its re­view of the fu­ture of its op­er­a­tions at Cork and Shan­non, it is ex­pected to con­tinue to op­er­ate its Cork routes to Heathrow and Am­s­ter­dam, while KLM is also ex­pected to con­tinue its Am­s­ter­dam route.

Ryanair has had a base at Cork Air­port since 2005. Last year, it over­took the com­bined pas­sen­ger to­tal of Aer Lin­gus and Aer Lin­gus Re­gional to be­come the air­port’s big­gest cus­tomer, fly­ing just over 1.3m of the 2.6m peo­ple who used the air­port.

Its route net­work in­cluded Liver­pool, Lon­don Gatwick, Lon­don Stansted, and Lon­don Lu­ton, more than 20 sun and city des­ti­na­tions in­cludi n g A l i c a n t e , B o r d e a u x ,

Bu­dapest, Car­cas­sonne, Faro, Girona, Lan­zarote, Las Pal­mas, Malaga, Malta, Mi­lan Berg amo, Naples, Palma, Reus, and Tener­ife, and Gdansk, Ka­tow­ice, Poz­nan, and Wro­claw in Poland.

How­ever, the im­pact of Covid- 19 has dec­i­mated air travel and the air­line was op­er­at­ing near-empty flights in re­cent months.

Its win­ter base clo­sure im­me­di­ately puts the jobs of 60 Cork-based Ryanair staff, pi­lots, cabin crew, and en­gine e r s a t r i s k , b u t it also threat­ens the fu­ture of hun­dreds more in the avi­a­tion sup­ply-chain net­work, in­clud­ing those work­ing in ground han­dling, cater­ing, re­fu­elling, dis­abil­ity ser­vices, and in air­port shops.

The im­pact will be felt be­yond the air­line and air­port, which sup­ports up to 12,000 jobs in the re­gion.

Air­port manag­ing di­rec­tor Niall MacCarthy said they d i d e ve r y t h i n g in their power to re­tain the base, but the re­al­ity was that since the pan­demic, many Ryanair flights to and from Cork have been op­er­at­ing with fewer than 10 pas­sen­gers on board.

“The Ir­ish avi­a­tion sec­tor h a s b e e n d e c i m a t e d by Covid- 19 and the coun­try needs to get to a po­si­tion where we have the ap­pro­pri­ate travel poli­cies in place to en­able Ire­land to co- ex­ist with the virus whilst safely re-open­ing our vi­tal air con­nec­tiv­ity,” he said.

“With the ap­pro­pri­ate fi­nan­cial sup­ports and travel poli­cies from Gov­ern­ment, we will work tire­lessly to se­cure the re­turn of the Ryanair base at Cork ahead of next sum­mer, when hope­fully, the air­line will be in a po­si­tion to re­place lost ser­vices.”

De­spite con­cerns that the air­port may close at quiet times given the dras­tic re­duc­tion in the level of sched­uled flights, Mr MacCarthy said it will con­tinue to sup­port search-and-res­cue op­er­a­tions, Air Corps flights, as we l l a s m e d eva c , o r g a n donor, and sim­i­lar flights.

Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune and sen­a­tor Jerry But­timer, a mem­ber of the Oireach­tas trans­port com­mit­tee, both urged the Gov­ern­ment to act on the Avi­a­tion Re­cov­ery Task­force Re­port to en­sure the sur­vival of the re­gional air­ports.

Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary has urged all EU gov­ern­ments to im­me­di­ately, and fully, adopt the EU Com­mis­sion’s so-called ‘traff i c l i g h t s y s t e m ’ , w h i ch al­lows for safe air travel to con­tinue for coun­tries and re­gions of Europe that can demon­strate that their Covid case rates are less than 50 per 100,000 pop­u­la­tion.

Mr MacCarthy said a low­cost, rapid, scal­able Covid-19 test­ing sys­tem is a vi­tal part of that, and the Gov­ern­ment must sign off on that soon.



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