Thursday, 24 September 2020

Questions (5)

Michael Fitzmaurice


5. Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice asked the Minister for Transport the supports being put in place to ensure the economic viability of regional airports, such as Ireland West Airport Knock, which are facing enormous economic challenges as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. [25863/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

What supports are being put in place to ensure the economic viability of the regional airports around the country? There is a perfect example near the Minister of State's constituency, namely, Ireland West Airport Knock, which is facing enormous economic challenges as a result of Covid-19.

As a result of Covid-19, the challenge facing the aviation industry is unprecedented, and Irish airports have been fully exposed to the dramatic downturn in activity. I absolutely appreciate the effects that this could have on the long-term economic viability of airports, particularly smaller aviation enterprises like Ireland West Airport Knock.

The Government is committed to doing what it can to support the industry, while having regard to the many other demands on the Exchequer.

In order to assist business and protect employment, the Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of generalised supports for all companies, such as wage subsidy schemes, grants, low-cost loans, commercial rates waivers and deferred tax liabilities. Up to the end of August, Ireland's smallest regional airports, including Ireland West Airport Knock, had received or were in the process of applying for supports to a value of almost €700,000.

In addition, and in line with priorities for regional development, the Government is also providing €6 million in grant aid for safety and security related measures under the regional airports programme in 2020. To date this year, Ireland West Airport Knock has received over €1million in capital investment and will be eligible to apply for operational supports in the coming weeks. A new regional airports programme for 2021 to 2025 is also being finalised, which will help regional airports, like Ireland West Airport Knock, to remain viable as they begin to plan for recovery and transition away from the devastation of Covid-19.

All support mechanisms for the aviation sector will continue to be reviewed in the context of the Government’s plans for international travel, having regard to the recommendations of the aviation task force.

The Minister of State referred to loans being available. The sad reality is that for airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock, income is €4 million less this year. One can borrow money but how can one repay it if there is no income? There has been a 50% reduction in the workforce. There is a focus on many things. The Minister of State has met people in Dublin Airport. Has she met people such as Joe Gilmore in Ireland West Airport Knock or anyone in Shannon Airport to hear their frustration? The Minister of State will understand, as she comes from Galway. The situation in the west of Ireland is unique because of the number of youngsters who had to take the plane when the country went broke. Regional airports are the link which keeps many families together and which make the west accessible to get to places like England rather than taking three hours to get to Dublin and queue for ages. If people from the west have to go through Dublin Airport they will not bother returning every weekend, as it is too much hassle. Is the Government prepared to ensure those airports, whether Ireland West Airport Knock, Shannon or Cork, are kept viable and kept going?

I am also aware of the importance of our regional airports and ensuring that we maintain that connectivity. I have visited Knock Airport and have had meetings with all the airports since my appointment. I am acutely aware of the pressures they and their staff are under and the great work and difficult decisions that many regional airports have had to make over recent weeks and months.

Ireland West Airport Knock is not alone in experiencing the stresses which many regional airports and the airline sector are under. In July, I announced supports of €2.5 million for capital investment in areas of safety and security in Donegal, Kerry and Ireland West airports, the latter having received €1 million. Further funding will be available for operational support to a total value of €3.5 million. I will continue to work on this.

The only problem with capital investment is that it does not help with the day-to-day running costs of an airport. I am asking the Minister of State to be very mindful that everything has focused on Dublin Airport. There is a danger for Cork, Shannon and Ireland West that if things continue as they are, they will not survive and we will lose the regional airports. Will the Minister of State give a commitment to secure the future of the regional airports whatever it takes?

There was funding for capital investment. A process will also open up for regional airports to access operational support under the Government's regional airports programme. Historically, Ireland West Airport Knock has been well supported by Government-backed programmes. Last year it received €9.4 million in Exchequer funding. This year, I intend to bring forward a regional airports programme for a five-year period starting in 2021. That will ensure ongoing capital and operational supports for airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock.

I assure the Deputy that the Government recognises the value of our regional airports in relation to connectivity, tourism, the local area and jobs within the regions. I will continue to work with the aviation stakeholders, as will my officials. It is in everyone's interest that the airports, like all businesses, are in a good position to contribute to Ireland's post-pandemic recovery. That is a commitment that I give the Deputy today.