Irish airport with no flights gets €5m boost in taxpayers’ money

The Irish airport where Ryanair began life in 1985 has been granted €5m (£4.45m) in taxpayers’ money – even though it has had no flights for three years.

Waterford, the only airport in southeast Ireland, was the starting point of Ryanair’s first route, to Gatwick.

But the then-tiny airline departed in 1992 because the airport authority refused to cut its charges. The move does not seem to have damaged Ryanair, which is now the biggest and most profitable budget airline in Europe, as well as the safest in the world.

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A succession of operators launched and then axed links from Waterford to a variety of UK airports, as well as some routes to Continental Europe.

But by June 2016 the final departures took place from Waterford to Birmingham and Luton on VLM – the Belgian airline which went bust last year. 

It currently hosts Irish Coastguard helicopter search and rescue operations and corporate aircraft.

On its website, the airport says: “Currently Waterford Airport does not have passenger services.

“The Airport continues to pursue the reinstatement of services.”

Unlike Ireland’s many other commercial airports, Waterford cannot handle Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 series aircraft with normal loads. 

So the Irish government has agreed to contribute almost half the cost of a €12m (£10.7m) runway extension that will allow Waterford to handle larger planes.

Donegal, Kerry and Knock airports are also to be given extra funds.

The transport minister, Shane Ross, said: “These grant allocations will help Ireland’s smallest airports to grow to a viable and self-sustaining position.” Waterford serves the towns of Wexford and Kilkenny, and could also appeal to travellers from County Wicklow, south of Dublin, who are on the opposite side of the capital from the airport.

But Dublin airport, which has grown to become one of the biggest in Europe, is only 92 miles northeast by air, while Cork – another growing hub – is 64 miles west.

The Independent has asked Ryanair if it intends to return to its routes. The stipulation on the maximum height of cabin crew, 5ft 2in, no longer applies, since the airline flies 189-seat Boeing 737 jets rather than 15-seater Bandeirante aircraft with tiny cabins.

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