Deputy John Deasy fears the future of Waterford Airport will come under threat if recommendations to slash regional airport funding by €17 million go ahead.

Following a recent meeting with local airport management where the implications of further cuts were laid out, the Fine Gael TD told this newspaper: “If An Bord Snip Nua had its way several airports would be closed and budgets cut back. Unlike all the other regional airports, Waterford has never received Public Service Obligation [PSO] funding and has operated successfully against the odds. It is the only regional airport that doesn’t have a subsidised route to Dublin.

“But there is a clear danger that if Waterford Airport’s operating budget is cut significantly, it could mean the end for one of Waterford’s key pieces of infrastructure. That is the very clear message I received from the people I met.”

The Waterford backbencher has brought this issue to the attention to key colleagues within Fine Gael as they prepare to draw up a list of spending cuts before the next budget. “As a political party we need to take the view that an entity like Waterford Regional Airport is a driver of growth that needs to be positioned correctly to take advantage of an upturn in the economy, when that comes about.

“If you start decimating key pieces of infrastructure you will do the local and national economy more harm than good. The economic future of Waterford and the region lies squarely with the continued growth of its critically important components of transport infrastructure.”

Under Transport 21, launched by then Transport Minister Martin Cullen three years ago, Waterford Airport was to receive an unprecedented €22.3m Government grant towards major infrastructural improvements. This was more than a quarter of the total funding package for regionally airports and included investment in a runway extension to cater for jet aircraft costing €13m alone. Some €5.4m was to be raised locally.

There is an expectation that improved road infrastructure will benefit Waterford Airport going forward. However, a hold has been put on any additional capital funding for projects such as the proposed runway extension.

Deputy Deasy sees that investment as being the obvious objective for everyone concerned in the region. “Outside of the cutting and shifting of the existing operating budgets, there needs to be a realisation that we will stagnate if we don’t have the capability to cater for bigger and different types of aircraft at Waterford.

“The existing Government representatives have failed to make this happen. Many of the carriers simply can’t consider Waterford due to its runway size.”

As the importance of direct air access grows, several business and tourism groups within the city and county have consistently made the case for expansion of airport services and a government commitment to fund Waterford Airport’s runway extension. All the groups concerned agree that as far as attracting new business to the area, improved air services are essential.

Mr Deasy concluded: “Our airport has done remarkably well considering the funding imbalance that exists between it and every other regional airport. But it won’t be able to operate if significant cuts are made in its operating budget. If that did occur Waterford’s economy would be in serious trouble.”