Seanad Éireann - Volume 171 - 13 March, 2003
Adjournment Matters. - Air Services.
Mr. Minihan Mr. Minihan
Mr. Minihan: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ahern, who is almost becoming a permanent fixture.
I raise the issue of the proposed development of Cork Airport which has been an ongoing saga for several years. The airport is one of the success stories of the south-west region. There is no doubt as to its importance to it. In recent years it has increased its passenger turnover which is already up by 10% this year. In effect, it is bursting at the seams and the story is entirely positive. People wish to come to the area. There is a groundswell of support from the public, the local business community as well as the international community to have the airport developed.
The airport is operated by a very committed staff and management. It is very well managed. This has been recognised, both nationally and internationally. A new home based airline, Jet Magic, has been launched recently and will announce further new routes from the airport tomorrow. This will be followed by announcements by British Midland and a new Spanish airline which intends to use the airport. The rate of growth in the Cork region is strongly reflected in the use of the airport. A recent economic impact study by UCC clearly showed the benefit to it, both financially and socially. It is a well known rule of thumb in the aviation industry that each 1,000 passengers results in one direct job and one-and-a-half indirect jobs to the region concerned.
I ask the Minister of State to outline to the House exactly what is the current position on the development of the airport, to which the Government has committed to record capital investment. While the plans have been put out to tender, the announcement of a contract is still awaited and there is some unease in the area as to whether the project is being long-fingered. Given the Government's commitment and the success story of the airport, as I have outlined, I hope we can have some clear time frame for the commencement of this work.
In recent months the airport has also been affected by new security restrictions which have impacted on it. In that context, it is vitally important that the existing infrastructural deficit is addressed in order to cater for new growth. I am confident that the plans brought forward will provide a first class international airport which is so badly needed and will be of tremendous benefit to the region in economic, business and social terms.
I hope the Minister of State will provide some good news to harness the existing goodwill and ensure the business community of the south-west region can look forward to significant development commencing in the very near future.
Mr. M. Ahern Mr. M. Ahern
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. M. Ahern): As the Senator is aware, Aer Rianta has statutory responsibility for the management, operation and development of State airports, including Cork Airport which is now in existence for over 40 years. The number of passengers, in the first full year of operation following the official opening of the airport by the then Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, on 16 October 1961, totalled 78,000. The airport has seen phenomenal growth in passenger traffic in recent years, rising by over 60% since 1996 to nearly 1.9 million passengers in 2002.
Despite the difficulties of recent years with the foot and mouth disease crisis, the US economic slowdown and the dreadful events of 11 September 2001, traffic at the airport grew by 6% in 2001 and a further 5% last year returning the best performance of the three State airports. It continues to serve the community well. At almost 1.9 million passengers in 2002, it maintained an unbroken record of sustained passenger growth in recent years. This figure is projected to increase to 3 million passengers by 2012 and a further increase each year could lead to 5 million passengers passing through the airport by 2020.
The sustained growth in passenger numbers at the airport has been placing increasing strain on its infrastructure, particularly the terminal. It is accepted by Aer Rianta that the airport must continue to develop the capacity to support expanding tourist and business traffic. Accordingly, the company has recognised the need to proceed with the further expansion of the airport in order to underpin the continuing economic and social development of the region which it serves. Aer Rianta initiated a detailed review of options for the future development of the airport in 2001 and appointed consultants to assist the company in this exercise. A systematic master-planning and optioneering process ensued, in consultation with a broad range of airline, handler and external stakeholders in Cork.
A range of options was assessed, including an extension to the existing facility. The preferred option, which emerged from this process, was the construction of a new terminal facility and associated infrastructure. Aer Rianta moved ahead with the preferred option in July 2001 and a planning application was duly lodged. Planning permission was subsequently received in December 2001 and the consultants proceeded with the detailed design of the facilities. The chosen option consists of a range of works including a new 25,000 sq. metres terminal with a capacity for 3 million passengers per annum and all associated facilities, with check-in, baggage handling, hold baggage screening, air-bridges, retail and catering, accommodation, etc, and a new fire station capable of handling the latest generation fire tenders. In addition to the new terminal building, the development will include associated infrastructure and car parking works comprising a central utilities building, replacement of all underground services, a new internal road network, 600 space multi-storey car park and additional surface car parking.
Advertisements seeking tenders for the construction of the facilities were placed in the Official Journal of the European Communities early last year. Bids were received in September 2002 from a range of Irish and international construction companies.
This is a major infrastructural project. Aer Rianta has been involved in an extensive and detailed bid review process which is expected to conclude within a matter of weeks. The new developments at Cork Airport will underpin the continuing economic and social development of the city and its hinterland in the medium term.
In the meantime, Cork Airport continues to attract new business with recent announcements relating to LTE – the Spanish airline – which will base an A320 aircraft at Cork from end March 2003. Czech Airlines – CSA – will commence services from Cork to Prague on 13 April and plans to overnight a B737-500 aircraft at the airport for four nights each week. As the Senator mentioned, Jet Magic plans to set up a base at Cork Airport from which it will operate three Embraer 135 aircraft and undertake aircraft maintenance in a new hangar.
I am confident that Cork Airport, which has contributed so much to the economic development of the south-west, will continue to act as an engine and driver of further economic growth for Cork and the surrounding regions.
Seanad Éireann 171 Adjournment Matters. Air Services.