NI Executive agrees multi-million pound funding for City of Derry Airport

Announced yesterday was the news that the City of Derry Airport, currently owned by Derry City & Strabane District Council, is in line to received an as yet unspecified sum (although Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said it was a multi-million pound deal, and that it had been signed off).

Many will know that the airport runs at a loss to the ratepayers of the council of £2.145 million per year. Ryanair announced recently that they would be cutting their Derry-Stansted route and the Derry-Faro route, and reducing the Derry-Liverpool route to just twice a week. Leaving the beleaguered airport with just seven confirmed stable flights in and out per week.

Northern Ireland has 3 ‘major’ commercial airports, at a rate of 1 airport for every 600,000 citizens or so, England has a ratio of 1 airport to 2.5 million citizens.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA said,

With the future of Derry Airport lies too the future of Derry’s economy, opportunities for our people and their ability to build a life here. The Executive cannot fumble it.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA said that the funding would allow for future growth for the facility,

What we are trying to do is reach a stage where City of Derry Airport is sustainable financially… [it is] the right thing to do.

Looking back in to the not-too-distant archives of the Derry Journal (February 27th 1989), we can find a previous Sinn Féin MLA passing comment over a similar investment.

During a discussion over a £300,000 grant from the Ireland Fund for the City of Derry Airport (or Eglinton Airport as it was then), a young Sinn Féin Councillor, now-former speaker of the assembly, Mitchel McLaughlin said that the money would be better spent on social and cultural amenities for the city. Cllr McLaughlin added that Sinn Féin was not and never had been opposed to the concept of a viable local airport, he had concerns however that the airport could eventually be proved to be a white elephant…

Local SDLP Councillor Pat Devine said the airport was a necessary part of Derry’s development and a sound investment for the future.

The Derry airport went on to receive £10.5 million from the European Regional Development Fund between 1989 and 1993 (Over £23 million today when adjusted for inflation).

Again in 2006, there was roughly €15 million (€17.5 million today when adjusted for inflation) invested from the British and Irish governments into the City of Derry Airport, once more with the view of turning its fortunes around and widening its reach.

This article from the Belfast Telegraph in 2008 talks of the wonderful potential of the North West’s airport.

Since 2007, the passenger figures have dropped by 33.5% and losses are mounting.

What was suggested as a potential white elephant all those years ago in 1989 is still draining public money but yet still being vaunted as the saviour of the north-west.

Many politicians, mainly nationalist, talk up the importance of the City of Derry Airport to the whole of Ireland’s North West… between 2014 and 2015, Derry’s passenger figures fell by 18% alone, whereas passenger figures went up 3.2% at Donegal Airport (albeit on much smaller aircraft generally), for that matter – it’s only 90 miles from Donegal town to Belfast International Airport… not a great distance in the grand scheme of things.

Then again, the NI Executive seems to have a new-found love for all types of aviation expenditure. As Mick Fealty points out here, “the downsizing of government to just two parties has at least led to some form of action.”  But is this a case of throwing good money after bad because nobody wants to be the leader who puts the poor thing out of its misery?