The future of Waterford Airport has been cast into doubt as it emerged that the €5m emergency funding put in place by the government is set to be pulled by the Department of Transport.
The Department is of the view that the payments ‘cannot be continued’ as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry among other factors. The Government made an agreement in 2019 to put forward €5m of the estimated €12m required to extend the runways which would allow commercial flights to operate from the airport.
However, that funding was contingent upon necessary works, which are yet to be finished, being completed by the summer of 2020.
Emergency payments which totalled €1.5m over three years were provided between 2018 and 2020 but no payments have been provided this year as of yet.
Local Sinn Féin TD, David Cullinane, asked for updates on the status of the airport in parliamentary questions and in response, Minister of State for Transport, Ms. Hildegarde Naughton TD, said that given the absence of flights – Waterford Airport “fails to meet the connectivity objective” set out by the Goverment’s policy on regional airports.
“While some operational payments to Waterford Airport were made on an exceptional basis between 2018 and 2020 in anticipation of the return of scheduled services, the radically changed outlook for the return of such services means that such payments cannot be continued and Waterford Airport have been advised of this position.”
A decision on the 900m runway extension is expected to be delivered by An Bórd Pleanála in the coming weeks.
Deputy Cullinane says that the airport now finds itself in a ‘very tricky situation’.
“COVID obviously has interrupted all developments, so it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for the airport to complete the works by the summer of 2020. Equally, it has to be said that there may be difficulties in attracting the private sector funding that was committed to as well. I do think that we need clarity on the overall status of the the airport, because the bottom line is that if we don’t get a runway extension, the airport will collapse and will not survive.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Jim Griffin, who currently serves on the board of Waterford Airport, told this newspaper that there have been a number of board meetings in recent months, including one scheduled for Thursday – but stressed that the meeting has not been called as a result of the emerging news on the status of the airport.
“We’ve had several board meetings over the past number of months. As of late, they’ve been getting more frequent. We know we are up against it and that we have a challenge on our hands. If the funding is pulled, of course it casts the future of the airport in doubt – and that’s where the board is at at the minute. We’re trying to come up with suggestions and ideas to bring people to the table and stop that from happening.”
Cllr. Griffin says it is now ‘make or break’ for Waterford Airport.
“It’s coming to a stage now where it is make or break. We have a couple of proposers and there was a couple of ideas ten days to a fortnight ago. We have to go to the relevant parties. That’s what the board meeting is about. Who is still there, who is still interested in investing and can we put a proposal on the table to secure the funding.”
Should funding be secured yet, Cllr. Griffin believes the Airport will prove a vital asset to the county.
“The aviation industry is at a stage where it has been decimated. When you look at the ERSI and other reports, once we are out of the calamity of COVID, it could be a booming industry. We want to try and hang in there. We know nothing has happened since 2016 and people are saying that it’s a dead horse anyway. I genuinely believe that if we secure the €5m and get the runway completed, there is an opening. Waterford is in a place where it needs an airport and it would be a shame to see things fall through. It is crucial for Waterford.”
No flights have operated out of Waterford Airport since 2016 when VLM went out of business.
Waterford City & County Council says that it remains committed to the development of the airport, and will work with the board and the Department of Transport to deliver the maximum benefit for both Waterford and the South East region as a whole.