It would be ‘hard to see’ a long-term future for Waterford Airport without the proposed 900m lengthening of its runway, says Fine Gael Senator John Cummins.
Senator Cummins, who sat on the board of Waterford Airport from 2014-2019, told the Munster Express, that in his time on the board – a decision was made by the members not to search for a smaller operator to merely ‘plug a gap’ for 6-12 months.
“We couldn’t have someone come in for 6-12 months to plug a gap and then be gone again. The decision was made that we needed to lengthen the runway – and all the focus and effort of the board went into that. We put a proposal together that would be €5m in state support and €5m in investment and €2-3m between the local authorities in the region – Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford. That was on the table at a point in time, but unfortunately nothing could proceed without a decision from An Bord Pleanala. Sadly, that has been pushed out time and time again. It would be hard to see how the airport could have a long-term future without the lengthening of the runway.”
Senator Cummins says that the proposed extension of the runway, which is still subject to approval by An Bord Pleanala, would ‘open the door to many more players’.
“The second that you lengthen that runway, you open the door to many more players – those that operate 737s and A320 aircraft. Those are the two most commonly used aircraft worldwide. In order for us to able to attract in a sustainable operator to Waterford Airport, we have to be able to cater for these aircraft.”
Senator Cummins said that while the aviation industry is in a difficult period at present, he would be hopeful that something could come to fruition were planning permission obtained.
“It is currently the worst possible time for aviation with the COVID pandemic but I would be hopeful that if the green light is given by An Bord Pleanala in relation to the runway that something can be done. I know the board will be working hard in that instance to finalise the parameters of the investment.”
Senator Cummins confirmed that the government funding of €5m for the project is still standing.
“The €5m is still there. That was decision of the cabinet in the last government – but obviously the private investment has to be there as does the local authority funding. Ultimately, that’s what got the decision passed in the first place – a cross-community involvement of players between the local authority, the state and private investors. That is the model for regional airports going forward.”
It is unknown at present when the decision on the planning permission for the runway will be made, but Senator Cummins says that it cannot come quick enough given groundwork permutations.
“There are realities there that any ground works that have to happen before the laying of the tarmac have to be done in relatively good weather. If you can’t do the groundworks between Spring-Autumn, you lose another year. That’s the reality of it. You can tarmac in the winter, but you can’t dig out foundations. If groundworks are to commence this year, a decision will have to be made very soon by An Bord Pleanala.”
The position of Waterford Airport was described as ‘delicate’ by current board member, Sinn Fein Councillor Jim Griffin, at the April meeting of the Metropolitan District of Waterford City & County Council. The airport has not hosted a commercial flight since 2016, with doubts remaining regarding funding from the private sector for the project.