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Death of a transport hub

June 1, 2015

Minister Donohoe T.D.,

 

Another week, and another new report confirming that traffic volumes continue to fall at Cork Airport.

 

On this occasion it’s the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) that notes traffic at second biggest airport in the Republic is down 10% in the first three months of the year, at a time when figures increased by 7.2% nationally.

 

As a working professional in my early 30s and someone that has been fortunate enough to travel frequently during the last decade, Cork Airport’s growing difficulties is directly impacting my ability to support it as a business.

 

What you’ve never had, you don’t miss - but the people of Cork, and Munster, until quite recently had a vibrant airport that serviced many cities and countries across Europe.

 

Today, however, the picture is bleak.

 

Competition is minimal on existing routes, which means fares are creeping upwards. The variety of routes and destinations has dipped significantly, and those cities we are still connected to are done so on a reduced basis. This, in turn, further restricts options for connecting flights.

 

Without prompting, a Spanish acquaintance working in the city raised the issue of the airport just this week. She studied in Cork for six months three years ago, and is now back providing much-need language expertise within a local Irish company that has massive potential to expand in the coming months and years.

 

While speaking about how enjoyable she found living in Cork and Ireland generally, she mentioned the airport and how much it had declined in the years since her initial stay. She now travels to Dublin to visit home each month, as flights are still more expensive and inconvenient from Cork than the additional bus journey to the capital.

 

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about a debt-reduction deal, subsided flights between Dublin and Cork as well as the need for new routes and further competition.

 

But why not allow Cork Airport fight for itself as an independent business?

 

Kenny Jacobs of Ryanair was in Cork earlier this year talking about his company’s new approach to customer service. He spoke at length and in detail about plans into the future and was asked his thoughts on the situation at Cork Airport.

He put a couple of very simple, but important points out there for the audience to consider.

 

For an airline to introduce a new route, it has to be convinced of the demand for inward traffic, the demand for outward traffic and be confident of making money once costs are paid.

 

The number of people with Cork passports travelling with Ryanair continues to increase; the number of people travelling with Ryanair in and out of Cork Airport, however, has dipped in recent years. Mr. Jacobs is happy that demand for outward traffic already exists.

 

The demand for inward traffic is not so certain - and here is where Mr. Jacob called on the wider stakeholders in Cork to press for the region to have a dedicated and ongoing overseas marketing campaigns. One specific example was Cork’s apparent lack of prominence in the promotional drive around the Wild Atlantic Way. The airport could be a key entry point - why wasn’t this a major callout to potential visitors?

 

On airport charges specifically, Mr. Jacobs was very clear. The airport needs to make a profit or it can act for the wider good of the region - and this is a decision that needs to be taken at a national level with the Dublin Airport Authority and not within the rooms of the airport buildings on the Kinsale Road.

 

I organised a conference event in Cork three years ago despite the significant cost of bringing in expert speakers from Sweden and Rome. The lack of flight options increased our costs and limited speaker availability, making it difficult to argue for bringing another similar event to the city and county as things stand. Not only will the city lose potential business in that instance but conference participants will need to travel to gain the expertise involved.

 

The government, local authorities and private enterprise have backed plans for a new event centre in Cork. How are people to travel into the region for events and conferences, however, if the airport continues to struggle and even contract?

 

We have a whole host of multinational companies including Apple, Amazon, and EMC in the city. It’s inconceivable that their eyes are not watching developments closely.

 

It’s regrettable that Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney TD, saw fit to point the finger of blame at the previous government recently given that many of the proposals being put forward as possible solutions can be acted on today. They are within the remit of your government and cannot be passed off as someone else’s responsibility.

 

A rising tide lifts all boats. We need our government, as the entity credited itself with Ireland’s return to better times, to put a robust plan of action in place for Cork Airport and this cannot be achieved by discussions alone. As Elvis Presley wrote: “A little less conversation, a little more action please.”

 

Yours sincerely,

Niamh O’Mahony

 

 

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