Noel Dempsey

Noel Dempsey

The future of Waterford Airport could be in renewed jeopardy following December’s anticipated ‘slash and burn’ budget.

The operational subvention paid to the regional airport has been cut from almost €1.494m last year to just under €605,000 in 2010 – and if anything there’s likely to be less not more available next year.

Fine Gael spokesperson Simon Coveney fears unless there’s additional funding forthcoming Waterford Airport – which is excluded from PSO (internal flights) subsidies – could be forced out of business.

Local airport bosses are already hoping its sole carrier Aer Arann can emerge from examinership with the help of fresh investment.

However, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey wasn’t giving the Killowen-based airport board much solace in the Dáil on Wednesday when asked how he could ‘expect it to survive’ on the basis of a 50%-plus subvention decrease.

With Cork-based Deputy Coveney wondering if extra monies would be granted given the dire consequences (asking “Does the Minister accept that Waterford Airport will close?”), and the “relatively small” amounts involved in keeping it going, Mr Dempsey said, “I can only spend money that I have, or that I get.”

While some of the €60m wiped from the transport budget this year fell on regional airports, “I tried to protect them as best I could,” he insisted. However, he hinted that the severity of the past three budgets could be dwarfed by this December’s cuts. “Like in every other area, we must cut our cloth to suit our measure.”

With the Minister stating that his Department had paid out all the money it had available early in the year, Deputy Coveney said while “we all face difficult decisions and responsible [Opposition] politicians… understand that cutbacks are necessary… no regional airports should have to close before the end of the year.”

Labour’s Joe Costello emphasised that any comparatively-minor savings made on operational subvention payments must be weighed against the major effects which would ensue within regional economies. However, Mr Dempsey said a “value for money” appraisal of the country’s regional airports had been conducted. “All aspects of what airports mean to local areas were fully analysed,” he said, and the funding recommendations he received were “based on a thorough review of all that.”