This was a great milestone for the Killowen-based facility, and while there have been breaks in the service over the years, the recent restoration of the route thanks to VLM made for most welcome news.
And the early signs for the service in terms of bookings has been most encouraging – and long may that remain the case.
Speaking on Newstalk last week, Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary referred to the airline’s commercial debut, which, lest we forget was at Waterford Airport in 1985, the first time passengers could travel to the UK (Gatwick at the time) from Waterford.
Alas, Waterford cannot, at present, accommodate Ryanair’s jets, and were it in a position to do so, the long-term future of the facility would be welcomingly secured.
As we learned this week, all planning and arbitration matters in relation to lands adjacent to Killowen have been “finally dealt with. All planning permission and arbitration matters have been resolved. Everything is ready”.
Airport Chief Executive Desmond O’Flynn confirmed that “preliminary work has already begun on the planning of the runway extension, and at the same time the Board of the Airport are in the process of raising funds for this project from a number of sources”.
And with Waterford City & County Chief Executive Michael Walsh also committed to doing what he can to assist in this process, slowly but surely, the pieces required to solve this particular infrastructural puzzle are falling into place.
What’s required now is a big push to secure the funding needed to make the 150-metre runway extension a reality, the cost of which has been estimated at €500,000.
A 10-year plan for Waterford Airport includes a further 200-metre extension, which would take the facility into an entirely different economic framework since such a runway could then accommodate major jet liners. But such a project would cost in the region of €5m-€10m to come about, and that, in the present climate, represents a utopian forecast.
We understand that local TD John Deasy is seeking some of the Government funds set to be raised by its sale of its share in Aer Lingus to be allocated towards the cost of the runway extension at Waterford, and this is a proposal worth supporting.
In the meantime, we’ve also learned of additional marketing supports that are being provided for our regional airports, and in the view of MEP Deirdre Clune, Waterford could qualify for a Public Service Obligation (PSO). But the Department of Transport has poured cold water on such a prospect, which we also support on this week.
Putting this to one side, we sincerely hope that better years lie ahead for the airport and that it can play a role in the sustained economic growth of the south east region, something which the IDA has recognised and given voice to in recent months.
The great imponderable: would Ryanair return to its ‘home’ airport if we had a runway that could accommodate its aircraft, shall remain in the ether until there’s enough asphalt in Killowen to permit the landing of any of their fleet.
In the meantime, we wish Desmond O’Flynn and his Waterford Airport team every success given the exciting challenges that lie ahead at Killowen.