*Photograph: Arthur Ellis
A REVIEW of the Regional Airports Programme will be concluded before any revision of the national aviation policy is made.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport with special responsibility for International and Road Transport and Logistics, Jack Chambers (FF) was in Shannon Airport to launch an economic impact report on the Shannon Airport Group.
He said officials in the Department of Transport are considering a review of the national aviation policy. Attention is on revising the Regional Airport Programme first with calls for State aid not to be capped depending on the amount of passengers per airport. A mid-term review of the programme has been completed and is due to be concluded in its entirety by the end of the year.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, the Junior Minister stated, “We’re reviewing the Regional Airports Programme which is of immediate importance to Shannon, we’ve put in €34m over the last three years from 2020 to 2022 and we’re reviewing that programme presently, it takes a couple of years to redo a national aviation policy so it is something we will consider in the aftermath of the Regional Airports Programme. We’re also establishing a Sustainable Aviation Fuel Taskforce which will present further opportunities for aviation and investment in the Mid-West region”.
Airports such as Shannon, Cork and Knock will not necessarily benefit if caps remain on the amount of passengers at Dublin Airport, the Dublin West TD maintained. “My priority is to ensure we have balanced regional development and we have ongoing growth of passengers in the Mid-West and Shannon with the capacity that is here but in combination the current national aviation policy is about growing all our State airports and we’ve seen ongoing passenger growth for the last number of years. In any review of our national aviation policy we will consider the feedback from stakeholders and the wider regions will strengthen that.
“Putting a hard cap on Dublin doesn’t necessarily mean we will see automatic spill over to our regions either and there is multiple factors which contribute to why an airline will locate in a particular region or indeed a particular country, we’re competing with other countries to locate in Ireland at all and that is the wider assessment. We want to ensure that balanced regional development is a key part of our planning framework and our development plan, there are opportunities in aviation for more jobs and growth for Shannon and the Mid-West region”.
An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar (FG) is among those in favour of lifting Dublin Airport’s 32m passenger cap. Chambers confirmed that an application to revise this will be made by the daa. “Dublin will need further capacity in the coming years above 32m, just because it can go above its current capacity doesn’t mean we can’t continue to grow Shannon. It is about presenting opportunities for growth in our regional airports, attracting international tourists and there is a wider set of factors which dictate why airlines in a particular region. As part of the review of the regional airports programme which Shannon came into during COVID with the drop in passenger numbers and we had other direct supports so how do we continue the investment into the future so Shannon can invest and be an attractive offering for airlines”.
Some recommendations from the economic impact report had been on the radar of the Department of Transport already, he said. “We are reviewing the Regional Airports Programme, there’s €3m in support next year for the regional marketing for Tourism Ireland which was referenced in the report to promote the region and for our visitors. The review of our national aviation policy is something we will be considering in 2024 but it will take a couple of years to do.
“Our ambition is very much aligned as a Government with what the business, stakeholders and wider community wants for Shannon and for the Mid-West region, it is about working with the Airport to ensure it can be made possible. There is a number of the recommendations which we have already commenced like the Regional Airports Programme, domestic support on tourism and obviously there’s other areas like the national review, sustainable aviation and we will be establishing a sustainable aviation fuel taskforce which I think has other opportunities for aviation in the region, there is lots of positive areas and progress happening in Shannon Airport and we want to ensure that continues over the coming years”.
Room for further growth and capacity in Shannon by revising the national aviation policy is flagged in the report. “Shannon is the best recovered airport in our country and that can’t be dismissed. We need to speed that up, that didn’t just happen, that happened because of the great work in the Airport and the direct government support the €34m which was invested in the Airport between 2020 and 2022, that combined has ensured we’re exceeding the 2019 passenger numbers by fourteen percent, a lot of European airports never mind Irish airports are way behind where they were prior to COVID and are struggling to recover at all. Sometimes we look at the numbers comparably within our airports in Ireland but in a market that is liberalised and deregulated for airlines in the single European market our airports are competing with other European airports, many of which haven’t recovered so that is a positive for Shannon and the fact it has been a leader in recovery is really positive”.