Figures show 2.7% growth on 2012.

Sligo News File Online

Managing Director, Joe Gilmore has hailed 2014 as a record year for Knock Airport, where passenger numbers increased to 703,324, up on 2013, and 2.7% higher than for 2012.

Gilmore said the airport had “record numbers on all of our services…highlighting its importance as the main international gateway for the west and north west of Ireland and indeed the Wild Allantic Way.”

The announcement follows reports that heavily indepted Sligo County Council is one of a number of local authorities expected to consider a bailout for the airport early this year. Sligo is reputed to have a a total debt load in the region of €150 million. More than €120 million of this is understood to be in the form of long-term debt, and a cumulative revenue debt of about €20 million. The authority is also believed to be under government pressure to make provision for a €10 million budget surplus in order to stabilize its revenues over the coming 10 years.

This does not include the further millions of euro the authority also has to find to meet the cost of the legal proceedings taken against it in the High and Supreme Courts by owners of the Lisadell Estate concerning rights of way through the estate.

Where Sligo is to find what is thought will be around two million euro (maybe more) as an investment towards paying off €7.3 million of the €9 million legacy debt – Western Development Commission is paying  €1.7 million – without further inflating its existing massive debt stock isn’t clear, but it’s imagined the pulling together of such a vast sum could not be achieved without placing further major financial demands or service cutbacks on the people of the county. It is assumed the cost of servicing the airport debt will drive the
proposed figure way beyond the current multi-million euro sum.

There is also concern about the expertise a local authority as shareholder would be able to bring to the operation or management of the airport, and whether the composition of the board of trust is set to be changed to allow for ownership to include the local authorities.

The airport, according to accounts filed with the Companies Registration Office by its operating company, Connaught Airport Development Company Limited, lost €659,000 before tax in 2013.

Sligo council CEO Ciaran Hayes, in the wake of a presentation to the county council by airport managing director Gilmore, said that the strategy outlined by the airport board was “hugely significant in terms of the council’s new role in economic development.”

The government, it’s understood, has promised to maintain an exchequer subsidy towards the airport for a time but this is to be phased out as it achieves viability. However, it is considered that breaking even, even with passenger numbers double those of 2014, will prove difficult. Government provision of “an enormous
package of incentives for Shannon”, it is feared will hamper its further progress and development.

A study Group, chaired by Fine Gael TD, John O’Mahony reported
in December 2013 that “Fundamentally, the work of the Group has shown that under the existing policy approach involving the cessation of Exchequer supports for regional airports, a range of legacy issues will mean that the Airport,  despite its efforts to meet the target of being self-financing by end 2014, would be forced to close within the next two years.”

In evidence to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications in December 2012, the then airport chairman, Liam Scollan, according to the Oireachtas report, said the “government’s actions in aviation fly in the face of anything to do with market competition. It is unfair, anti-competitive and potentially illegal. It rewards airports which, even with 1.6 million to 2.2 million passengers, are losing €8 million to €10 million annually and punishes an airport like Knock that is almost breaking even on half those passenger numbers.”

The report also quotes Mr. Scollan as saying “…we know that there are significant troop movements -200,000 to 300,000 – through Shannon, which bring enormous levels of income.”

Later, Mr. Scollan reportedly said in an interview with the Mayo News that the government had taken a decision “to write off €100 million of debt in Shannon…. There will also be a transfer of income from Shannon Estates (a part of the larger Shannon Deverlopment Organisation) into Shannon Airport and what this means is that Shannon Development’s land banks and property expertise will be merged with Shannon Airport with a view to developing an international aviation services facility in the region. It is a transfer of considerable assets over to Shannon Airport which boosts them with an annual subvention or income to assist them to attract new
routes and new businesses in aviation -related areas, maintenance etc. It is a massive financial cash injection.

“The airport is essentially getting its debt written off while also getting another significant financial boost.”

It is not known when exactly the proposed local authority investment programme for the Ireland West Airport is to be considered by councillors in Sligo. Hayes has said, “it will be advanced subject to a Due Diligence report currently being compiled.”