As we go to press it would appear that the resignation of Minister Matin Cullen from the cabinet is imminent. Ill health caused by back trouble is making his work commitments difficult to fulfil at times. His departure from the cabinet table will be a major source of regret to Waterford. His experience and knowledge will be missed as well as his advocacy for Waterford and the South East area.
The city bypass and the motorway to Dublin will stand as just two of his highest achievements for the area. Failure to get the WIT upgraded will be a regret, as will the Waterford Crystal closure. Major refurbishments to Christ Church and the Theatre Royal will be other successes. Another success will be that of Waterford Airport.

Waterford Airport underpins 560 jobs

While the general news on the economy is bad the overall picture is not as gloomy as made out in some quarters. Waterford Airport is holding its market share well and bringing in business and visitors to Waterford. Cork and Dublin, which have many more routes, have suffered from the downturn in aviation, proportionately more it seems.
Over 85% of our regional businesses view direct air access to the South East as important to their operations. The airport boosted overseas visitor numbers by 12 per cent between 2004 and 2008 and saw its international throughput of visitors grow by 45 per cent from 2006 to 2009. Approximately one third of airport users are business travellers – high for a regional airport. In providing direct air access to the region, Waterford offers time savings, a deciding factor for export-led companies to locate in the South East.
The capital investment programme is designed to meet business and tourism needs in the future. Colin Buchanan and Partners find that the Waterford Airport is key to the economy of the South East region and is set to play a more vital role in promoting business, tourism and the region’s economic development in the future. Waterford Airport underpins 560 jobs in the area, according to the major economic report.
Approximately 52 people are employed directly by Waterford Airport with a further 12 employed in services required on site such as Garda, Customs, etc. There are a further 113 employed by companies based at the airport ranging from Aer Arann crew to the Coast Guard Search & Rescue team and the Pilot Training College of Ireland, as well as those working in ancillary businesses at the airport.
In total there are 177 jobs directly employed at the airport on-site. The consultants estimate that, allowing for spin-off jobs in the wider community, the airport supports an additional 274 jobs through direct spend and a further 283 through tourist and visitor spending that the consultants view as being specific to the airport’s existence today, giving an overall level of employment of 560.

Bucking the trend

Despite the global economic downturn, Waterford Airport is bucking the trend. The overall decline in UK passengers at Waterford was nine per cent in 2009, which is less than most other regional airports. Buchanan carried out a survey of approximately 700 users of Waterford Airport in October 2009. It showed that 60% of users fly to/from London Luton airport with just under 20% each for Manchester and Birmingham. The main reason for travelling to/from Waterford is for visiting family or friends, accounting for just over 40% of trips with inbound visitor adding significantly to the tourist spend within the region. Business trips are the next main source of journeys, accounting for one third of passengers while leisure trips account for just under one-quarter.
Business trips to and from Ireland’s regional airports generally account for 10-15% of all trips, meaning Waterford’s share is well above average for a public airport of this size. Many of these travellers are frequent users of the airport with 12% travelling up to and in excess of 10 times a year.
The South East region has developed strong connections with British businesses, with 60% of business travellers coming from UK-based firms mostly in London and from South East England but also from other parts of the UK. One fifth of passengers are from US-based firms and just over one-tenth are employed by domestic firms.
Three quarters of businesses stated that they would be directly or indirectly affected by the loss of passenger flights. The greatest impact would be in terms of the reduced attractiveness of the region as a place to do business, which was cited by 60% of responses.

Important air access

Nearly 9 out of 10 businesses surveyed believe that air access is very important to businesses looking to invest or expand in the South East region. Overseas destinations feature prominently as a base for clients and suppliers amongst South East businesses. London features just as strongly as Dublin with 72% of businesses highlighting it as a regular market location.
In addition, approximately 6 out of 10 businesses have dealings in parts of Britain outside London with a similar proportion regularly doing business in Continental Europe.
An analysis of the sectors in which business travellers work shows that healthcare/pharmaceutical activities and transport/logistics and engineering activities stand out and together account for around one third of passengers. The healthcare sector in the region is dominated by overseas companies with manufacturing facilities in the South East and therefore account for a significant level of overseas export earnings for the economy.
Businesses in the South East view increasing access from Waterford Airport to key European hubs very positively, with three quarters of businesses indicating that they would see flights to Amsterdam and Paris Charles De Gaulle as being good for their business. In addition, more than half of those surveyed would view the introduction of flights to Edinburgh as having a positive impact. Approximately three quarters of businesses view their linkages with Great Britain and Europe as expanding over the next 5 to 10 years, higher than Dublin where just over half of businesses see growth.

Longer runway

Overall, the report makes a very strong case for the importance of a developing regional airports and direct access for the economic wellbeing of the South East region. The South East is particularly attractive to foreign investment in terms of the natural environment, uncongested surroundings and cost of living. A number of companies working in pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors have based their activities in the region – these companies require air access to the UK mainland Europe and the US.
According to Buchanan, there is a feeling that the airport, in specifically serving the South East region, is on the verge of becoming a major selling point – once it has an expanded runway that will allow it to take larger aircraft and dramatically open up the destinations which can be served. It is noted that the airport is anxious to recommence its capital funding programme, including runway development once allocated Government funding can be released.