Kerry Airport has proved to be a major success and is now playing a very significant and vital role in the economic and social life of Kerry. Its board of directors includes representatives of all the main corporate and public bodies in the county under the leadership and direction of Kerry Group. There was serious concern over the summer months in Kerry regarding the future viability of Kerry Airport following statements from Aer Lingus that it was considering withdrawing its service from Kerry Airport to Dublin. This concern resulted in a widespread public campaign which included the three local authorities of Tralee, Killarney, Listowel, as well as the Tralee and Killarney Chambers of Commerce and the Kerry branch of the Irish Hotels Feder ation. The campaign included a meeting with the Minister on 12 September, at which five Kerry Dáil Deputies, a Senator, representatives of the three local authorities, business and tourism interests in the county were present. At that meeting it was forcibly pointed out that any downgrading of the air service to Kerry would have serious consequences in terms of attracting investment and tourists into the county. It would lead to a general perception of Kerry as an isolated, inaccessible and difficult location in which to do business, as it would greatly increase the time and cost of travel within the EU for potential customers, specialist maintenance and other critical staff.
In addition, it was pointed out to the Minister that many people who use the service are receiving medical treatment in Dublin. If the present level of service is not retained and improved, it will be an infliction of further discomfort and suffering on those people who will have to make a five-hour journey to Dublin by train or road.
Today – I hope it was not a coincidence but if it was I welcome it – Aer Lingus announced that it is now tendering for the service of the Kerry-Dublin route. This follows an internal study by Aer Lingus which demonstrated that the Kerry-Dublin route had a commercial basis and would give a commercial return. The revised public service obligation for the Dublin-Kerry route, published recently, provides for a welcome expansion of the service. The service must be operated at the rate of at least three return trips per day, seven days per week. A minimum of 150 seats per day each way to and from Kerry to Dublin, that is, a minimum of 300 seats in both directions must be provided seven days per week. The flight schedules must include an early morning flight from Kerry to Dublin and a late evening flight from Dublin to Kerry to enable passengers on business trips to make a round trip within the day. A range of fares may be applied subject to at least 60 seats per day each way to and from Kerry to Dublin being available at a return fare of £87 or 110 or lower and a minimum return fare of £97 or 123 in respect of a maximum of 60 seats per day each way to and from Kerry to Dublin. This is very welcome.
The scenario as outlined in the communication will result in the provision of three flights from Kerry and a £1.05 million subsidy from 2001. At present 78,000 passengers use the service. With three flights, this should increase over 18 months to 110,000. This should prove very attractive to Aer Lingus, and if they can reduce their overnight cost and other overheads then the route from Dublin to Kerry should become very profitable.
The development of Kerry Airport is critical for the future prosperity of County Kerry. It is the most peripheral county in Ireland, with inferior access roads, such as the N69. It has a most inconsistent rail service because of the quality of the line from Mallow to Tralee. Admittedly, this will now be improved somewhat because of recent upgrading. We have no sea port to bring in ferry traffic, except for the Tarbert-Killimer ferry which brings people from Kerry to Clare and back. The continuation and improvement of our airport service is critical for the entire region. I appreciate that there is a commitment to providing financial support for regional airports in the national development plan. This commitment must be delivered on if Kerry Airport is to compete for passengers and other business with the Aer Rianta supported airports of Shannon and Cork. I appeal to the Minister to do everything possible to make the tender very attractive to Aer Lingus and also to plough further money into Kerry Airport to improve the facilities at the airport.