The Government is seeking EU approval for plans to give airports €90 million to aid them in cutting charges to lure airlines back as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic recedes.
Extended State travel restrictions left Irish aviation trailing the rest of Europe, with the State reopening weeks later than most EU member countries.
Budget 2022 pledged an extra €90 million to airports to discount and rebate airline passenger charges to encourage carriers to start restoring routes in and out of Ireland.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton confirmed that the Government had begun seeking European Commission approval for the airport aid.
She explained that the EU had given the green light to the Government to provide €20 million to airports earlier this year to offer airlines route incentives.
“We have started to engage with the European Commission to expand that to €90 million,” Ms Naughton said.
Ms Naughton said the extra funds would allow airports to "do what they do best" and negotiate deals with airlines to restore key routes, particularly those linking Ireland with North America.
The Government will give €36 million to regional airports next year, including for the first time Cork and Shannon, to spend on safety, security and sustainability projects.
The €90 million earmarked for air travel is part of €286 million that Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath is making available immediately to back recovery from pandemic measures. The Government maintains that between pandemic payments, wage supports and grants to airports, it has given €300 million to aviation since March of last year.
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said that much of the Government's commitment to public transport was long-term.
He said he knew “people are frustrated by timelines” but that it was “important to get it right”.
However, he pointed out that many steps would be taken next year, including buying 41 extra rail carriages, 81 buses for regional and rural services, and 24 hybrid buses for urban fleets.
The money allocated will also cover the appointment of contractors to the first phase of the Cork commuter rail programme, while planning will continue on Dublin’s Bus Connects, the extension of the city’s Dart light rail system and the Metro line between the city centre and Dublin Airport.
Dalton Philips, chief executive of State company DAA, responsible for Cork and Dublin airports, welcomed news of extra funding for aviation. He said DAA looked forward to rebuilding its long- and short-haul networks from Dublin and Cork.
Niall MacCarthy, managing director of Cork Airport, said the support would allow it rebuild international routes.
“Cork Airport was the second-busiest and best-connected airport in the State coming into this pandemic and we aim to return to that position coming out of this crisis,” he added.
Vincent Harrison, managing director of Dublin Airport, said the money would allow it improve its "already highly competitive airport charges and incentives".