Joe Gilmore, CEO at Ireland West Airport, Knock, Co Mayo, says in the region of 7,000 people from the Longford area use the airport annually.
Ireland West Airport is facing into the year ahead after another increase in passenger numbers in 2018.
In the region of 7,000 people from the Longford area use the airport annually and over 5,000 overseas visitors visit Longford when they arrive through the airport.
The airport is aiming for another similar increase in 2019 which would bring visitors numbers to 800,000. There has been a steady increase in the last ten years and the goal is to reach a million passengers in the next five years.
The airport's commitment to its role in the development of tourism on the west coast is demonstrated by the opening of a new Visitor Discovery Centre in November.
Joe Gilmore, the airport's chief executive points out, that the airport is centrally located on the Wild Atlantic Way, the stunning coastal route which through a sustained marketing campaign has helped boost visitor numbers to Ireland’s west.
“We are the most centrally located airport on the Wild Atlantic Way. It has been one of the main marketing points.”
The increase last year from 750,000 to 772,000 passengers was achieved in spite of some challenges, the Claremorris native says.
“That’s in the context of continued concerns over the economy, challenges related to Brexit and it was quite a tough year from a weather perspective - in the first quarter of the year we had hurricanes and we had a few days of closure with snow. So we were very pleased with that.”
Further growth this year will be helped by the increasing of capacity on Ryanair’s Barcelona service which has been expanded from a three-month summer service to an April to October service.
The service to Bristol has also been expanded from a summer service to a four times a week year-round service. A twice-weekly service to Cologne from June 1 for four months is a new addition and is the first service to Germany for three years from the airport.
Of the 1m annual German visitors to Ireland, 60% visited the west coast.
“That is an exciting development for us because we have been working hard to try and expand the European routes we have, and particularly from an inbound tourism perspective, the German market is a very big target market for the north west.”
As well as expanding services the infrastructure of the airport will also see an upgrade this year.
The biggest project will be the overlay of the airport's runway, a €12m investment that will be carried out in the evening and during the night, beginning in June for four months.
The main runway is over 30 years old and the taxiways, lighting, and drainage will all be upgraded. The instrument landing system will also be updated.
“It will futureproof the airport from an infrastructure point of view for a further 20 plus years,” he said.
There are also improvements to the immigration area, the baggage hall, the arrival hall, toilet facilities and the departures area.
“This is to make it a much more customer friendly and focused airport and to make it as easy to use as possible.” Other improvements include covered walkways out to the aircraft.
The airport has a €10 development fee in place for all departing passengers over 12 years old. It has to fund €5m of the runway overlay itself and €2m is being spent on an upgrade of the hold baggage screening equipment.
Another important development is the inclusion of the airport in the National Planning Framework, Mr Gilmore says.
“The airport was highlighted as an important and critical enabler for tourism and economic development on the Atlantic economic corridor. This airport could play a very important role going forward.”
One issue that is hanging over the airport, as well as many other businesses of course, is Brexit.
The chief executive is happy there will not be an operational impact on the airport in case of a no-deal Brexit. Last year saw a 3% increase in UK traffic despite concerns over Brexit.
The UK is the major market for the airport with nine destinations and around 400,000 passengers on the services to the three London airports alone.
“The London market is a massive market for us. We have a very large diaspora. There are so many people traveling over and back to the UK every week.
“We have the confidence level that point to point connectivity will continue irrespective of a hard or soft Brexit. We are confident that the route network, as we have it, will continue.
“The challenge for us would be in the economic impact and the potential short to medium-term fall out if there is a chaotic situation.
“Operationally we are as confident as we can be that airlines will continue to fly.”