The chief executive of Ireland West Airport has warned that Ireland’s aviation sector will return to the 1950s when the country had only one airport if travel restrictions are not lifted soon.
In an exclusive interview with the Western People, Joe Gilmore revealed that the airport is running at a record deficit of €4m in 2020 after losing 90 per cent of its business.
“No business can sustain this level of reduced demand and effectively be shut up in terms of travel restrictions,” said Mr Gilmore, adding that the airport has been “effectively closed since March”.
“Passenger numbers have collapsed, load factors have plummeted and staff have faced redundancies and shorter working weeks. The airport has already slashed its costs by 50% but “from a business perspective we might as well be closed”, said Mr Gilmore.
“The fact that there are such severe travel restrictions, we’re effectively closed down.
“If this continues for six or 12 months then the threat of closure comes into play,” he added.
Aer Lingus never restored its services from Ireland West after lockdown and only 25% to 30% of seats on Ryanair’s reduced schedule are taken. If the low-cost airline continues to lose significant amounts of money there’s a fear its chief executive Michael O’Leary will pull out of Knock, leaving the airport with no flights.
Mr Gilmore said airport management had “positive discussions” with Minister of State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton on two occasions and is seeking €4m in the upcoming budget to meet losses.
The chief executive was a member of the National Taskforce for Aviation Recovery and is adamant that the recommended stimulus package for airlines must be implemented to allow for continued flying and the restoration of connectivity.
“Airlines are losing significant amounts of money and that can only be sustained for a period of time.
“The scale of the losses in the aviation sector are enormous; the whole sector has been effectively shut down,” he said pointing out that the Dublin Airport Authority is reporting losses of a €1m per day.
Mr Gilmore is in favour of pre-departure Covid tests at airports if they make flying safer and give people the confidence to travel.
“If we continue as we are there’s a risk air travel wont recover for 10 years in this country and the risk to airports like ourselves and Shannon and Cork is that we won’t survive. We have to find a way to make travel safe from a public health point of view.
As the nation holds its breath for the budget and news of a vaccine, only 12/14 flights per week are scheduled to operate from the airport during the winter months.
“Hopefully there will be some positive developments on the travel front,” said Mr Gilmore who believes there is ‘pent-up demand’. “We’re seeking an opening up of the UK market. It doesn’t make sense asking people to quarantine here when you don’t do it on the opposite end.”