Question Time with the Minister for Transport and Marine – Wednesday, 23rd June 2010.

June 23rd, 2010 - Pat Breen

Deputy Pat Breen: The Minister acknowledged that in 2009 overall passenger traffic was down. At Shannon Airport it was down 23%, while in Europe and the UK it was down 13% and 7% respectively.
The Minister meanwhile has shelved plans for granting autonomy to Shannon Airport management until 2011. This is unacceptable for the airport’s management as it is forced to work with one hand tied behind its back. In the past the airport performed well when management could make its own decisions, particularly in the time of Brendan O’Regan and Liam Skelly. However, a conflict of interest between the Dublin Airport Authority and Shannon Airport has arisen. For example, the Dublin Airport Authority would like to have the Lynxs cargo company locate in Dublin when Shannon is vying for it too.
Does the Minister plan to address this structural deficit or will he continue to leave Shannon Airport management in limbo? It is to the detriment of the airport that its management cannot make its own decisions.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: The Deputy is incorrect in claiming I shelved plans for the separation of Shannon and Cork Airports from the Dublin Airport Authority. Due to the severe economic downturn and its effects on the international aviation industry, the chairs, boards and management of the various airports requested me to postpone the planned separation of the Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports from the one authority. They believed it would not be prudent considering the economic positions in which they found themselves.
Next year, it is intended to examine the various possibilities for separation. I will listen carefully to the board and management of Shannon Airport if they want it to be separated from the Dublin Airport Authority to run their own affairs. Their decision will carry much weight with me, so long as everyone knows the consequences of such a move.
Deputy Pat Breen: My question was about the management structure and having its own autonomy.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: The Deputy cannot have it both ways.
Deputy Pat Breen: Shannon management is operating with one hand tied behind its back as it is the Dublin Airport Authority that makes all the decisions for it.
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Breen, allow the Minister to conclude without interruption.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: The way to making their own decisions is to become an independent company. I am agnostic on this matter and have listened carefully to all sides in the debate. However, once an airport decides to go independent, it will no longer have the protection of the larger organisation. It will be on its own. If that is the final decision—–
Deputy Pat Breen: Does the Minister believe Shannon Airport can survive on its own?
Deputy Noel Dempsey: As long as people know the ground rules in this matter. I do not know too many people involved in Shannon Airport or the wider Shannon region who believe the airport could have survived the current downturn in the aviation industry.
Deputy Pat Breen: That is correct.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: The chair, management and board of the airport made the right decision requesting a deferral of the autonomy plans during this downturn. If people change their minds, I will take their points on board.
Deputy Pat Breen: The Minister misunderstood my question but I believe he knows where I am coming from. It is about Shannon Airport management making its own decisions without having to go back to the Dublin Airport Authority for approval. There is a conflict of interest when it comes to both airports trying to attract new investment projects reporting to the one authority.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: I know exactly where the Deputy is coming from. Some people would like to have no responsibility and just access to the cash. I am not saying that applies to Shannon Airport management. However, a subsidiary company cannot be able to spend moneys belonging to its parent company unless it is prepared to take responsibility. The structure is not in place in the Dublin Airport Authority for this. If we do agree to separate the airports, it will mean Shannon becomes responsible for all of its decisions, generating its own income and ensuring its own survival.
Deputy Pat Breen: These are difficult economic times.
Deputy Noel Dempsey: That is why we made that decision but it may change next year.
The difficulty is that one cannot have a company which is part of a larger company making its own decisions while the larger body pays for it. It is getting the balance right that is important.
Next year, I would be open to the airports deciding to take the route of separation from the Dublin Airport Authority.