Future of Waterford Airport looks fraught with uncertainty
EMERGENCY funding is being sought for Waterford Airport as the future of the Killowen facility remains ‘up in the air’.
A memo is to be brought to Cabinet today (Tuesday) seeking emergency funding for the airport which is still without any commercial operator.
Waterford Minister of State John Halligan has confirmed that funding is being sought by the Department of Transport in order to keep the airport operational for the next six months.
He hopes this will give the airport “some space” in which to secure a new commercial carrier, adding that management are hopeful a new carrier will be in place by March.
Waterford Airport has been without commercial flights since June 2016.
“In a bid to boost its search for a new carrier, the airport 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,” explained Minister Halligan.
“Since no carrier has been secured, Waterford Airport is 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 survive and I have been working hard to ensure that the management and board are given every support possible to ensure the worst does not happen.” (See News 2 for more)
Minister Halligan continued: “The emergency funding will be made available in January and run for six months. During that time, the Department of Transport will actively engage with the management and board on the future of the airport. It is crucial that a carrier is found during this time.”
Earlier this year, it was announced that Aer Southeast would operate flights from Waterford to London Luton, Manchester and Birmingham.
However, the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) forced Aer Southeast to stop selling tickets for flights because it did not have the required tour operator’s licence.
In November, CEO of Waterford City & County Council Michael Walsh said that an announcement of a new carrier at Waterford Airport was “imminent”.
However, at last week’s December plenary meeting of Waterford City & County Council, he sounded less optimistic when responding to a request for an update from Cllr Blaise Hannigan (Ind).
Mr Walsh said a new service at the airport would not be operational prior to Christmas.
He said discussions are still ongoing and expressed his hope that there will be an announcement in the New Year.
“If it was easy it would be done before now,” he said.
He said the next “important window” is the commencement of the spring /summer tourism season and indicated that a March date was being worked towards.
Last month, reports had suggested that BackBone Aviation, based in Denmark, was to provide a service linking Waterford and London Luton.
The route was initially expected to be operational for the Christmas and New Year period.
However, when contacted at the time, Waterford Airport said it would not be providing a comment on the matter
It’s not clear if BackBone Aviation remains a contender for operating a new service at Waterford Airport.
Some issues have already been highlighted about the capacity of Backbone Aviation, including by Cllr Joe Conway (Ind) who said he has some “apprehensions”.
“The first centres around operational capability,” he explained.
“BackBone Aviation is currently listed as having just two aircraft – both Canadair CRJ200ER regional jets with a typical passenger capacity of about 50. They have an average age of around eighteen years – one 20 and the other 16. They are thus considered ageing and reliability is a function of this.”
He continued: “Their FAR [Federal Aviation Requirement] TODR [Take-off distance required] is around 5,500 feet. Waterford has a maximum runway length on 03/21 of 4,700 feet – so, on the face of it, the current aircraft stock of BackBone could not operate out of Killowen.”
Minister John Halligan has reiterated the need for a runway extension once again this week, describing the issue as “crucial if Waterford Airport is 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,” he said.
“But so much hinges on whether a viable carrier service can be secured.”
Meanwhile, Waterford Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane has also described the runway extension as “vital”.
“I have long said that an extension of the runway is vital if the airport is to have a long term viable future. The size of the runway limits the type of aircraft that can fly from Waterford making it all the more difficult to obtain a commercial carrier,” he said.
“It is coming to a point where the Department needs to decide if it wants a regional airport in Waterford or not. If it does it needs to provide the funding to extend the runway. I will work with the airport management and local Oireachtas members in finding a solution. However the responsibility for finding an alternative carrier lies with the airport management and the decision on funding a runway lies with the Minister for Transport.”