Efforts to attract a commercial carrier to Waterford Airport are ongoing, with one local authority Chief Executive suggesting it may require between €10 million and €12 million to restore it to viability.
The Airport, which remains without a Chief Executive of its own since the departure of Desmond O’Flynn in mid-January, has not facilitated a commercial flight since June 2016.
In addition, the even lengthier discussed runway extension at Waterford Airport is essential if the facility is to secure a sustainable commercial carrier, according to the Chairman of Stobart Air.
In an interview featured in the second edition of Waterford Chamber’s ‘Network’ magazine, Conor McCarthy, founder of Dublin Aerospace and a former executive with Ryanair, said the Killowen facility “was fine when we had a dysfunctional road transport network”.
However, the absence of a runway capable of catering for jet-engined aircraft effectively rules Waterford out of servicing a London slot “when the competition are all flying fast jets such as the Airbus 320”.
Mr McCarthy added: “Waterford, without jet capability, is not going to have any possibility of success. It’s been tried and tested and clearly doesn’t work. A lot of the core infrastructure is there but you still need significant investment to get a 2,500m by 40m runway operational. The Government can’t/won’t do that on its own and that’s the challenge.” But he also disclaimed: “Even with that done, you still have no guarantees you will attract an airline.”
Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of Wexford County Council believes that between €10 million and €12 million is required to restore Waterford Airport as a commercial entity.
In response to a query from New Ross-based Councillor Michael Whelan (FF) at the March meeting of Wexford County Council, Tom Enright said the investment needed to extend the runway was the issue which had to be most urgently addressed.
This, the New Ross Standard reported, would permit the landing of larger commercial jets, “not only ATRs (twin-engine turboprops) which are small aircraft with a capacity of 50 to 80. It’s very hard commercially to make that work. We need a successful airport for the region and we need to extend the runway.” In relation to the multi-million Euro investment, Mr Enright said without such monies, “it will be very difficult for the airport to be a commercial airport”.
According to Minister of State John Halligan (IA): “In a bid to boost its search for a new carrier, Waterford received its full Regional Airports Programme funding for 2016, totalling €1.02 million. However, this came with a warning from the Department that grant support would not continue unless a scheduled carrier was in place.
“Since no carrier has been secured, Waterford Airport was not eligible for its operational funding for 2017 as it does not have scheduled flights operating on a year-round basis. However without some financial support the airport simply could not have survived and so the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport confirmed in January that emergency funding would be made available for six months.”
Minister Halligan added: “This emergency funding was intended to give the airport management and board some space to secure a new commercial carrier and also to progress talks with private investors on a runway extension, which is crucial for Waterford Airport to be viable in the long-term. State money can’t be used for airport infrastructure but there are a number of other options under consideration. But so much hinges on whether a viable carrier service can be secured.”
Airport management are aware that funding will not be provided indefinitely, given the current position with no carrier in place, John Halligan told this newspaper over the weekend.
“With the Board, they are working with the Department in reviewing and trying to secure the future of Waterford Airport.”
During a recent visit to Waterford, Ireland South MEP Deirdre Clune (FG) said that new local funding would be required as ‘seed capital’ when it came to delivering a runway extension which would re-open the South East to proven markets including London, Manchester and Birmingham.
This, she added, would require businesses in the region offering financial support to the local authority in a bid to match whatever funding could then be provided by central government.