Waterford Airport needs a 'minimum' €12m to build a bigger runway to secure its future

The company has asked the government to chip in €5m for the project.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

WATERFORD REGIONAL AIRPORT – which hasn’t had commercial flights since 2016 – needs at least €12 million to build a bigger runway, the development of which will determine the future of the troubled hub.

In a statement accompanying the airport’s latest annual report, chairman Dan Browne said the board has reviewed all possible future operations and “concluded that to secure the future of the airport for schedule service it would be necessary to widen and extend the runway”.

Right now, Waterford’s runway is only capable of handling smaller turboprop aircraft “that are diminishing in numbers and struggling to retain their place in a highly competitive marketplace”, Browne noted.

The airport’s board said a longer, wider runway would allow the hub to cater for more commonly used machines like the Boeing 737 favoured by Ryanair and the Airbus A320, the most common plane in the Aer Lingus fleet.

“A minimum investment of €12 million would be needed to achieve this and the associated infrastructure. A request was made to government for €5 million to be matched by local investors,” Browne said.

According to local media reports, Waterford Airport recently applied for planning permission to extend the 1,433m runway by 470m and widen it by 15m.

At the time of publishing, a planning application wasn’t available on Waterford City and County Council’s website and the airport has yet to respond to a request for comment on the matter.

State funding

The future of Waterford Airport has been hanging in the balance since June 2016 when the Belgian parent of airline VLM went bankrupt, bringing an abrupt end to its only scheduled services, to London-Luton.

The airport currently hosts a coastguard helicopter and is available for use by private jets.

The closest it came to re-launching commercial flights was when a new carrier called Aer Southeast announced the rollout of several services from Waterford to the UK in July of last year.

However, the fledgling airline was told to stop selling tickets after it ran into trouble with Ireland’s aviation watchdog.

Aer Southeast in February claimed that it would begin flights this year but has yet to release any further details.

Its website has been offline for over a year and the company behind the carrier, Skytruckers Limited, is currently listed to be struck off by the Companies Registration Office.

Waterford Airport received a €1 million state grant that year to help cover operational costs as part of a €2.7 million state fund made available to regional airports.

It received €375,000 in emergency State funding in January of this year to support the coastguard search-and-rescue service that’s based at the facility. The directors said they hope to receive a similar tranche of funding in September and January 2019.

A review on the future of the airport was recently completed by consultancy EY and sent to Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport Shane Ross for consideration.

According to Waterford Airport’s 2016 annual report, the company recorded sales of €1.5 million that year, down from 2015′s tally of €1.7 million. It reported a loss of €353,870, which pushed accumulated losses past the million-euro mark.

In a note attached to the latest financial statements, the company said it “incurred further losses” in 2017 but didn’t supply figures.

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