Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross is reviewing the funding model for the four regional airports dotted around the State.
The Minister has published a paper for consultation on the development of the next regional airports programme which is designed to ensure that air connectivity can be provided to the Republic’s more isolated regions.
Mr Ross is seeking views on the “effectiveness of current support measures” and suggestions to consider on “the need for something different”.
While the extent of any change from the existing programme remains to be seen, previous reviews have made a variety of recommendations. A recent Department of Finance review found that Knock airport offers the greatest potential to become self-sustaining.
It also said Kerry Airport’s proximity to Cork and Shannon should be examined, and referenced a 2010 report which argued that the public service obligation (PSO) flights from Dublin to Kerry should be ended and only the service to Donegal should remain.
As for Waterford Airport, which hasn’t had commercial flights for three years, it would appear as though the department remains committed to supporting it, having granted €5 million in taxpayer support in June to the facility for a runway expansion.
Between 2015 and 2018, the State gave funding of €23.8 million to the four regional airports. Knock Airport received the highest amount, €11.4 million in capital and operational grants, while Donegal received the least at just under €3 million. However, the PSO support for flights between Dublin and Donegal cost the State a further €14.8 million while the Dublin to Kerry route cost €15.1 million between 2015 and January 31st this year.
Under European state aid rules, airports with fewer than one million passengers must contribute at least 25 per cent to capital investments, while they must contribute at least 20 per cent for operational funding.
The Department’s “issue paper”, released on Friday, sets out the position of the existing programme and includes a questionnaire to guide responses from stakeholders.
Mr Ross said he hopes the consultation will contribute to the design of optimal, cost-effective measures in support of regional airports. “Securing best value for money in the deployment of exchequer funds will also be crucial,” he said.
The public consultation will end on September 30th and Mr Ross will bring forward a draft regional airports programme later this year.