Airports facing winter collapse
■ Jobs at risk as airline set to close Cork and Shannon bases
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.
CORK AIR TRAFFIC SLUMPS TO 1960s LEVELS
AER LINGUS REVIEWING BASES