Knock thrives on wing and a prayer

  • Knock thrives on wing and a prayer
    Independent.t. E.
    All go West airport Ireland knock, or, as it is known locally in co Mayo. There is a frisson of excitement about the place and Executive Director Joe Gilmore is optimistic about the exposure the airport will get from the arrival of Pope Francis at the end of this month. It will fly at the airport August 26-hour visit to the nearby knock.

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All go West airport Ireland knock, or, as it is known locally in co Mayo. There is a frisson of excitement about the place and Executive Director Joe Gilmore is optimistic about the exposure the airport will get from the arrival of Pope Francis at the end of this month. It will fly at the airport August 26-hour visit to the nearby knock.

“Obviously, this will be a great event,” said Gilmore.

“Like the climax that the airport was delivered in the first place – this is the Final Chapter began a visionary Monsignor James Horan”, he added.

Monsignor Horan was the man behind the controversial construction of an airport in 1980-ies in the “foggy, boggy hill”, as one politician described the situation at that time.

But Gilmore doesn’t take a lot of credit for ensuring the Pope’s visit at the end of the month.

“From the point of view of the airport we had a little entrance. It’s all Lord and father Richard Gibbons, knock that convinced those in power in Rome.

“While it is symbolic and it is great that he will fly to the airport, it was all down to the temple, actually,” he said.

Of the Pope’s arrival coincides with a transformational time at the airport.

He is undergoing a facelift, consisting of 15 million euros of investment that is spent on new passenger facilities, terminal modernization and infrastructure work on the project and the airport runway.

Only the investment runway is €12m, with 75pc of that funding comes from the Treasury.

But upgrading the infrastructure, – said Gilmore.

“The basic infrastructure of the airport is more than 30 years and we are now in the process of upgrading the runway – we are at the design stage”, – he stressed.

“The contract is out for tender and it is expected that the contract will be concluded in the next few weeks the buyer you’re talking about a regular international players such as BAM, Lagan, CRB and Cola – basic infrastructure firms that are involved in the development of our other airports, as Dublin and cork.

“That’s why investments in regions from the Treasury is important because the airports, as we do not have the funds for large investments. We can Finance our operating and overhead costs for the most part. The Prime Minister recently visited here and was very optimistic about the future, and we need to acknowledge the support from the government,” he added.

While West airport Ireland is not a state, it will receive state assistance under the public policy Remit, the scheme of an expenditure of Subventions.

The development fee of €10 is levied on all departing passengers from the airports who are over the age of 12 years, and the money supports the day-to-day operations.

Pre-tax profit of the company that operates Ireland West airport knock in 2016 has increased more than fivefold, to €642,788, according to the latest accounts.

In a record year for the airport, passenger traffic increased by 48,000 or 7 in 733,869 as revenue increased by 3pc to €12.6 m.

The airport is now experiencing significant growth, but was much leaner times during the crisis, says Gilmore.

“I joined the airport in 2009 and the recession was in full flow,” he says.

“We have not had any job losses, but we have to look at the programs dismissal at own will during. And in fairness to the staff, they took cuts to pay and we had to cut costs where we can.

“Our main business with the UK remains strong, because in a strange way we have benefited from people on the way to work there.

“Then the tourism business benefit from reduced VAT rates, and the business began to grow from this. It’s swings and roundabouts. I can’t thank the staff enough for their work through it – it was three or four years with an emphasis on survival. Our major clients have left us. There is a strong brand, and that low-cost travel and easy access to markets, it has grown,” he says.

He added that the value it brings to the regions is now well-known as approved investments by the local authorities.

“We have about 200 people here, and there are still 50 to 60 people working through the airline, car rental, etc, from the local point of view, we are quite a big employer,” says Gilmore.

He added that there are about 1,000 jobs that are supported downstream from the suppliers to the airport, the tourism sector, the food industry and hotels.

Last year, more than 200,000 passengers at the airport and remained in the region, an average of five days.

They spent €150m locally, says Gilmore, adding that the data should be monitored closely.

He added that the “Wild Atlantic way” was a great boost for the airport as it serves as a Central point of access, in particular the UK, where the airport receives all year.

“There are nine cities, from the UK, and we have seen significant growth in the last four or five years. Even this year, we see good results,” he says.

Passenger traffic at the airport rose by 20pc over the past five years, and Gilmore hopes it will get about 800,000 by the end of this year.

A long-term plan is that by 2024/25, the airport would provide the investor and would be able to stand alone financially.

However, it will continue to seek Treasury funds for the maintenance and development of infrastructure.

Airport managers sat down with government officials in 2014/2015 and has developed a 10-year growth plan in conjunction with the Department of transportation and seven local authorities. On this basis, the authorities took 17.5 PC package and invested € 7 million. This work was completed last year.

At Horan International trust owns the remaining shares.

But Gilmore said the airport is looking for foreign investors who wanted to come on Board as development partner and will be ready to take a long term view on return on investment.

“The investors we are talking about is the one who came and actively promote the region, tourism and economic development. You are looking at 10 – to 15-year period before you see a return on investment of this kind. It is more suited to the Pension Fund,” he added.

The long-term goal also includes the growth of passenger figures to make a figure well North of a million, maybe 1.5 million by 2024/2025.

The airport is also looking at new markets.

So can passengers flying to Paris from the NOC in 2019? It is quite possible.

Gilmore added that the leaders of the airport is for airlines such as the company aer Lingus and Ryanair that Germany and France – in Frankfurt, düsseldorf and Paris as potential locations that can be opened and added to the existing strong markets such as Spain, Portugal and Italy.

The airport also has a cooperation agreement with Stewart international airport in new York and Charter going to Boston and new York over the past few years, another potential growth market.

Of course there are problems – and at the top of the list leaving the UK.

“Not yet, no country in the EU bite. I think the problem with the UK out of the EU, is uncertain and, obviously, our business depends on about 80pc of UK – so nothing to do with the trade in the UK or movement can have serious consequences on us.

“As we get closer to the deadline we are taking all steps we can, contingent liabilities if there is an increased security control, immigration and on the other side, we look at what infrastructure requirements might be.

“In the West of Ireland and from the SMEs perspective, quarter, and month represents the greatest threat within the next few years, and if there is what they call hard British exit from the EU if the UK falls in March there is a substantial risk of serious crashes in the aviation sector in the short term.

“This could be potentially catastrophic consequences for the United States, but how this manifests itself remains to be seen. If we are unable to provide our services will impact on employment, tourism. We believe that the business model is still strong, but if there is a law or of safety problems, which will not allow of flights that will be in the worst case.

“But we do not expect a catastrophic outcome and we hope that the political forces will find a way to allow that to not happen,” he adds.

Gilmore appears to be a natural optimist and he is focusing on his vision for the future, may be leading from the Monsignor.

“My idea for Ireland West airport in 2025 that we passed more than one million clients, we would have an additional 10 to 12 routes in Europe, as well as direct access to at least a seasonal direct access to us through Stuart, and possibly other airports.”

He adds that there are other potential prospects in the airport.

Last year 300 acres of Land around the airport has been designated as a strategic development zone (SDZ) and there is a complete SDZ planning scheme being developed by Mayo County Council, which will go to consultation later in the year for the region.

“It gives confidence regarding planning aviation and other commercial enterprises.

“It will give people an incentive to come and invest in related services such as aviation-related businesses, like repair and maintenance business, possibly a training flight schools. In this regard, there is reason to believe that we could have a small hotel built here. I would like to think that by 2025 there will be another 1000 to 2000 jobs located in the immediate vicinity of the airport, if we can get the right combination.”

Perhaps, now, it seems hard to believe that the West of Ireland airport was once mocked because of its location on the marshy hills and was the butt of many jokes.

“In my past I worked in Shannon Industrial Park with GE and I admire what they have achieved.

“There is no reason why airports can’t serve as gateways, and adapters for other companies, and I think there are great opportunities,” he says.

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