Dublin Airport operator DAA seeking 32m passenger limit to be raised to 36m

Chief executive Kenny Jacobs warns that cap was deterring airlines from seeking slots at Dublin, denying State potentially valuable new air routes

State company DAA may ask planners to raise a 32-million-a-year passenger limit on Dublin Airport to 36 million in the autumn in a bid to fast-track efforts to lift the controversial cap, said its chief executive, Kenny Jacobs. He warned on Wednesday that the cap was deterring airlines from seeking take-off and landing slots at Dublin, denying the Republic potentially valuable new air routes.

Mr Jacobs confirmed that DAA was working on an application to have the cap, whose imposition angered airlines, raised to 36 million while planning authority Fingal County Council considered a broader submission that includes a bid to have it raised to 40 million.

DAA could submit that application in the autumn, pending the outcome of a separate An Bord Pleanála process dealing with noise and night-time runway use.

That would be an “operational infrastructure” application, Mr Jacobs explained. “We’re not going to build anything,” he pointed out.

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Planners originally imposed the limit – a condition of allowing Dublin Airport to open Terminal 2 – in 2006 to tackle likely traffic congestion.

However, Mr Jacobs noted that 35 per cent of passengers arriving at the airport’s terminals now come by bus, against just 5 per cent in 2006, easing pressure on the roads.

A 36 million cap would allow DAA to meet current demand, projected at 35 million for next year, easing airline concerns.

Airline chiefs including David Neeleman, founder of US carrier JetBlue and most recently Breeze, have told Mr Jacobs that the cap means they will not seek new slots at Dublin Airport.

JetBlue flies from the airport to Boston, a route that is reported to be performing well.

They fear that they will lose those slots again as regulators work to aid DAA in remaining within the 32 million limit. The Irish Aviation Authority recently confirmed that it would limit airlines to 14.4 million passengers at Dublin this winter.

Mr Jacobs stressed that it would take a long time to lure airlines back to considering Dublin once they decide to go elsewhere, as establishing new routes takes time.

“We are a small, open island economy and stalled growth at our national airport sends a negative signal about investment in Ireland,” said Mr Jacobs.

DAA’s bid to have the limit extended to 40 million is part of a broader application to expand the airport’s facilities. Observers say Fingal could take two years to decide on this.

Meanwhile, the company will this year bring a plan to its board to boost traffic at Cork Airport past the five million mark, from the 2.8 million passengers it handled last year.

This is in line with Government projections that the city and county will grow its population in the coming years. “We would like to have that as a good example of having the infrastructure ready ahead of the demand,” said Mr Jacobs.

The State company reported earlier that profits hit €176 million last year, allowing the board to recommend paying a €31 million dividend to the State, its first since 2019.

Cork and Dublin airports handled 36.3 million passengers in 2023. Retail arm ARI grew its business in the 27 airports in which it operates around the world.

DAA International handled 65 million passengers at the three airports in Saudi Arabia that it manages: Jeddah, Riyadh and Red Sea. The subsidiary has businesses in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Peter Dunne, DAA’s chief financial officer, said the group ended the year with €805 million in cash but had €1.6 billion in debt, twice pre-pandemic totals.

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The company must repay most of it between 2028 and 2032. Mr Dunne cautioned that DAA will have to borrow further cash to fund the expanded infrastructure it needs.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas