While much of the world has been grounded by the pandemic, Cork Airport has remained open throughout, providing essential services to support the national effort to curb the spread of Covid-19.
From aiding the repatriation of passengers and the provision of PPE to frontline workers, to facilitating cargo deliveries, search and rescue missions, medical evacuations and transplant flights, the airport’s dedicated workers have continued to rise to the many challenges of the past 18 months.
Now, as we begin to emerge slowly from the crisis, Cork Airport is forging ahead with a multimillion euro investment plan as it prepares to “reopen aggressively in December”, Kevin Cullinane, interim group head of communications for the DAA, the operator of Cork and Dublin airports, said.
“With passenger numbers currently down 99 per cent, it makes prudent business sense to fast-track major capital investment projects now while the airport is extremely quiet,” Cullinane said.
In a typical year, Cork Airport handles about 22,000 commercial landings, which has caused inevitable deterioration to the 21-year old runway.
Construction work originally scheduled to start from next year has now been brought forward to coincide with a period when airline activity will continue to be severely curtailed.
“Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have a unique opportunity where we can close the runway for a ten-week period this autumn, in a shoulder period after the summer, and get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Cullinane said.
“This will save considerable time and money. It is much safer in construction and aeronautical terms, and impacts a fraction of the annualised 200,000 passengers we predict in 2021 – rather than the 1.5 million we predict for 2022, or the 2.6 million to 2.8 million passengers we would have in a normal year.”
The scope of the work required was much more extensive than a standard runway overlay, Cullinane said, encompassing a substantial rebuilding of airside infrastructure, upgrades to airfield ground lighting and cabling work.
The airport will also get a new Hold Baggage Security Screening System at a cost of €12 million.
“There is no easy way to do this work, but we are confident that we have made the right decision in the best interests of our business, the wider aviation community and the Irish economy,” Cullinane said.
Already, the first tentative signs of recovery are starting to appear on the airport’s flight schedule.
Before the onset of the pandemic in March of last year, Cork Airport accommodated nine scheduled airlines operating more than 50 routes.
This dropped drastically to just two – Aer Lingus flying to London Heathrow and KLM’s new Amsterdam route, launched last August.
Now, however, Aer Lingus, Ryanair and KLM are all in operation, while Air France, Swiss and Lufthansa are due to recommence services this month and next, offering flights to 18 destinations.
“The advantage of getting this reconstruction work done now, in 2021, is that we will be strategically positioned to re-open aggressively in December – and Cork Airport can return to being the fastest growing airport in the country,” Cullinane said.