In a unanimous decision, Leitrim’s county councillors have called for the Government to level the playing field for Ireland West Airport Knock following news this week that Shannon Airport debts have been effectively wiped clean to the tune of €100m euro and the introduction of a full package of measures to include the long term future of Shannon.
Raising the issue, Cathaoirleach Cllr Enda Stenson put forward a motion calling for the Council to write to each of the Local Authorities in the region with the idea of forming a sub-group to maintain pressure on the Government about the strategic and infrastructural important of Knock’s airport.
He also asked the Council to contact the Minister for Transport; Local Oireachtas members and the Taoiseach directly to appeal for a more ‘level playing field’ to be put in place in regards to the aviation industry in Ireland.
Cllr Stenson said that there was genuine concern regarding the situation at Knock Airport at the moment.
“The feeling is that the current focus on Shannon Airport will be detrimental to Knock,” he said.
Cllr Sinead Guckian pointed out that the move seemed to fly in the face of recommendations from the Government’s own aviation advisors.
“They said that the Government should not proceed with a package for Shannon without first putting in place a coherent strategy for aviation for the whole of the country,” she said. “They haven’t done this. This is extremely unfair”.
Other councillors questioned the legality of the bailout for Shannon with Cllr John McCartin stating that it seemed to contravene “EU Competition Policy”.
Cllr Gordon Hughes also pointed out that Knock had proven itself a successful airport achieving 92% self funding and only costing the Government 87c in subsidies per passenger, substantially less than the cost for each passenger passing through Shannon which runs at over €6.00 in tax-payer funded subsidies per person.
In a statement issued to the Leitrim Observer this week, Liam Scollan, Chairman of Ireland West Airport Knock, said: “The decision to intervene so generously in one airport while ignoring other airports amounted to an unfair, wasteful and possibly illegal use of scarce resources, which would not serve the interests of national aviation.
“They could trigger the terminal decline of an efficient, growing airport like Knock, which has begun to compete successfully with the State owned Shannon at a fraction of the cost. It was also a financially disastrous policy for hard pressed taxpayers.”
“The decision avoids any attempt to benchmark and look for value for money. Knock’s commercial growth meant that in 2012, it managed to fund 92% of its total operating costs with just 8% coming from Government.
“By contrast, Shannon Airport has losses now reaching €8m per year, even after additional subsidies,” he pointed out.
“Over the past 18 months, we have presented Government with a series of innovative proposals which would lead to 1000’s more tourists and 100’s of jobs in both tourism and aviation related industries,” said Joe Gilmore, CEO, Ireland West Airport Knock.
“All of these proposals were rejected on the basis that the Government would only engage in this manner with its own State-owned airports. At the same time it redoubled its focus on Shannon.”