Ryanair boss Michael O\'Leary

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary

Controversial Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has again attacked Waterford Airport, claiming it has “no future.”

The outspoken airline chief told the most recent meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport: “One cannot get away from the fundamental economics of this country. While Bristol has 10 million people and only one airport, we have 4 million people and 11 airports, seven of which would not survive without massive subsidies,” he argued.

“There is no future for Donegal, Galway or Waterford; and Knock, despite the fact that we fly there, is flaky as well. We subsidise everybody on the Knock-Dublin route to the tune of €120 each.

“At a time when schools and hospitals are crying out for funding, we are subsidising the rich to fly between Knock and Dublin,” he added. “It is insane. Ireland has more than a sufficient number of airports with Dublin, Cork and Shannon. Kerry, because of the road infrastructure, can probably survive with some services.

“However, the services are not to Dublin. The future for Kerry, Cork, Knock and Shannon lies in developing services directly into the UK and Europe, whereby visitors may be stimulated into coming here,” he maintained.

In July Mr O’Leary used the same forum to air similar views, with Waterford Workers’ Party councillor Davy Walsh hitting back: “It beggars belief that Michael O’Leary would attempt to damage this project and state that Regional Airports have no future. His comments must be seen in the context of his battle with Aer Arann, as a result of which Ryanair has gained valuable subsidies on the Kerry/Dublin route”.

He pointed out that the regional airport at Killowen is continuing to cater for record passenger throughput, with a planned investment of €27.7m (€5.4m being raised locally) tentatively paving the way for a runway extension for mid-sized jet aircraft by 2010 – potentially accommodating Ryanair flights.

Within days of Mr O’Leary’s previous attack, his deputy Micheal Cawley said the ‘no frills’ airline would definitely look at Waterford “if the price was right… We’ll have to look at it and see if they can make it viable. We’ll show up there if the costs are low enough.”

Ryanair’s first ever scheduled flight was from Waterford to Gatwick on July 8, 1985 (their scheduled services from Dublin started the following May). The fledgling airline began the London route with a humble 15-seat Embraer Bandeirante. Demand saw the service upgraded to a 44-seater Hawker Siddley 748 the next summer, switching routes to London-Luton.

Following a change in policy, Ryanair discontinued services from Irish regional airports in 1993.