Ireland’s four busiest airports handled 23.4 million passengers in 2011, up less than 1% on the previous year. While this is an increase of 40% since 1999, it is a long way short of the peak of over 30 million handled in both 2007 and 2008. In just three years, between 2004 and 2007, passenger numbers rose by a massive 38%, but since then demand has fallen by 23%, driven by the serious economic downturn. How does the country’s development in air traffic since 1999 compare with Europe’s four biggest country markets? The following graph shows annual airport passenger numbers in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK indexed on 1999. While Irish airport passenger numbers have grown by 40%, during the same period passenger numbers at UK airports have grown by just 30%, German airport traffic is up 50%, Spanish airport traffic is up 60%, while passenger numbers at airports in Italy have grown by 80%.
Ireland’s airport traffic is dominated by Dublin (18.7 million in 2011), followed by Cork (2.4 million), Shannon (1.6 million), and Knock (650,000). Again, comparing airport growth since 1998 using indices reveals how Shannon’s traffic doubled in nine years (1998-2007), but then halved in just three years (2007-2010) and how Knock, admittedly the smallest of the four airports, has not experienced the same fall in passenger numbers since 2008, as the larger airports.
Ryanair’s cuts; British Airways, and others disappear
In the last three years, between 2008 and 2011, passenger numbers at the country’s big four airports have fallen by 23%. Comparing schedule data for a week in July 2008 with that of a week in July 2011 helps identify the main causes of this drop in capacity.
|Top 10 airlines (July 2008)||WDS July 2008||Top 10 airlines (July 2011)||WDS July 2011|
|Aer Arann||27,690||Aer Arann||10,484|
|bmi British Midland||6,968||Continental||4,375|
|Delta||6,069||bmi British Midland||4,300|
|Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 July 2008 and 11 July 2011|
The biggest change has been the much-publicised cut in services by Ryanair, which reduced its weekly capacity by 26%, equivalent to over 47,000 departing seats, as a result of increased taxation and increases in airport charges. However, this represents only just over half of the total loss of weekly seat capacity (87,000) between these two periods. Aer Arann cut over 60% of its own branded seat capacity (equal to some 17,000 weekly departing seats), while LOT’s former LCC centralwings (the fourth biggest airline at Dublin in the summer of 2008) was closed down during the autumn of 2008, resulting in the loss of 10 routes and a further 7,500 weekly seats. Although Aer Lingus also cut capacity on its mainline routes to Europe and North America it compensated by agreeing a deal with Aer Arann for that carrier to operate a range of short-haul routes under the Aer Lingus Regional brand. These routes and services are included under Aer Lingus in 2011.
Another significant event was the decision by British Airways to pull out of the Irish market. In the summer of 2008 it had operated flights to Dublin from London City, London Gatwick and the City of Derry in Northern Ireland, but last summer its only presence in Ireland was a technical stop in Shannon for its London City A318 service bound for New York’s JFK airport. This represents a reduction of over 4,500 weekly seats, while bmi British Midland and its subsidiary bmibaby have also, between them, reduced their presence by some 5,000 weekly seats.
Domestic market down almost 70%
Although the domestic air market is not huge it has seen a major reduction in capacity in the last three years, partly as a result of better road connections between Ireland’s main towns.
|Route||2008 WOWS||2011 WOWS|
|Dublin – Cork||5,292 (Ryanair)
1,898 (Aer Arann)
|Dublin – Shannon||4,474 (Aer Lingus)|
|Dublin – Kerry||1,766 (Aer Arann)||1,323 (Ryanair)|
|Dublin – Galway||1,492 (Aer Arann)||915 (Aer Arann)|
|Galway – Waterford||1,000 (Aer Arann)||764 (Aer Arann)|
|Dublin – Donegal||700 (Aer Arann)||692 (Aer Arann)|
|Dublin – Sligo||700 (Aer Arann)||734 (Aer Arann)|
|Dublin – Knock||350 (Aer Arann)||203 (Aer Arann)|
|Cork – Galway||132 (Aer Arann)|
|Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 July 2008 and 11 July 2011
WOWS: Weekly One-Way Seats
In total capacity on domestic routes has fallen by 66% in just three years from just over 35,000 weekly seats to just under 12,000.
DAA pays back €1.5 million to growing airlines
The introduction of the €10 tourism tax in March 2009 has clearly had some impact on demand, although after much lobbying, it was reduced to just €3. The DAA (which operates Cork, Dublin and Shannon airports) recently announced that it would be paying out €1.5 million in airport charges rebates, shared between 30 airlines that grew their operations at Dublin in 2011. Dublin increased its passenger numbers by just over 300,000 last year (1.7%) and airlines that will receive a refund, based on their level of growth, include Aer Arann, Aer Lingus, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, Norwegian, SAS, Swiss, Turkish Airlines and US Airways. Ryanair is notably absent from this list. The scheme will be continued in 2012 and 2013.
New routes already announced for 2012 from Dublin include; Aer Lingus to Stockholm and Verona, Aer Lingus Regional to Bournemouth, Emirates to Dubai (which launched on 9 January), Lufthansa to Düsseldorf, Ryanair to Budapest, Verona and Warsaw Modlin, and United/Continental to Washington Dulles.