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Knock to lose two continental routes

Scollan believes lack of tourism promotion to blame

The Chairman of Ireland West Airport Knock has criticised the marketing of the west and north-west of Ireland as a tourism destination in the European market after he confirmed the airport has lost two of its European destinations.

Liam Scollan confirmed to The Mayo News that the Ryanair routes from Knock to Paris Beauvais and Frankfurt Hahn which operated from March last year will not be renewed for 2013.

The routes along with a third flight to Milan were launched with great fanfare in November 2011 when Ryanair CEO and An Taoiseach visited the airport for the launch but the uptake in seats have been disappointing with 13,000 passengers coming through the airport instead of the target of 35,000.

Mr Scollan explained that the main traffic using these routes was from tourism and he believes they suffered due to the lack of promotion from tourism bodies on the continent.

"The marketing of these areas did not come around until the middle of the summer and that was much too late. We as an airport try to win a route but the filling of the planes is down to the tourism agencies in that country. If an opportunity of a route comes along there should be a target to fill the planes with passengers from the word go.

"Our view is that the route should have set a target of 35,000 but at the time the tourism body was of a view of not setting targets. We would perfer if they did because you are more likely to achieve that and not having a target is a flawed policy. If you set an ambitious target for a route you market that strongly and try to target those numbers coming in," he said.

Mr Scollan reassured that the Ryanair route to Milan Girona airport was returning for another season and they will continue to work with the airline and hopes the tourism agencies will target the potential of Knock as a tourism destination.

While acknowledging that the loss of the two routes to two of the biggest European markets was a blow to the airport, Mr Scollan felt it was bigger worry for tourism in the west and north-west.

The long-term viability of Knock Airport has come under scrutiny in recent weeks following the government bailout for Shannon airport. Mr Scollan said he could not say if the bail out was a factor in the two routes not being renewed but added it did not help.

"We don’t know if the flights are going to Shannon but given the injection of cash into Shannon it makes it harder for us as they are able to be more ambitious. It may happen this year or the next but it will inevitably happen," he said.

Charlestown-based councillor Gerry Murray said the loss of flights to Shannon was one of the main concerns for the airport and expressed his concern at the loss of the two flights. He said the survival of the airport was at a ‘knife edge’ and said he was concerned that the Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar was using EU directives as an excuse for not being able to place major investment into the airport.

"It is very disappointing to hear Minster Varadkar citing the EU’s state aid clause as a possible reason why his Government would have difficulty in making major funding available for Knock Airport. While Knock airport is run as a business, it is not a business in the conventional sense of the word, in essence it is a not for profit company with a mandate not just to promote the airport but also the entire North West via tourism and job creation. Therefore the normal state aid and competition criteria must be waivered so the airport can reach its full potential," he said.

(Mayo News vom 12.02.2013)