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State paid an €8,000 subsidy per traveller at Covid-hit airports

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Planes at Dublin Airport

Planes at Dublin Airport

Planes at Dublin Airport

The Government has paid an eye-watering subsidy of almost €8,000 for each passenger return journey just to keep air routes operational between Kerry and Donegal airports and Dublin during the Covid crisis.

That is despite Ireland West Airport at Knock having to shut down at the start of the pandemic with no passenger journeys recorded in April - and Dublin, Shannon and Cork Airports seeing passenger numbers plummet by almost 99pc.

Waste

The State subsidy in place throughout April for the Donegal-Dublin and Kerry-Dublin routes is now a staggering 4,000pc greater per passenger return journey compared to the actual airfare involved.

One senior aviation official said the ongoing public service obligation (PSO) payments to Kerry and Donegal to effectively keep empty planes flying represented "a shocking waste of taxpayer money".

"Based on the latest air travel statistics, just two people on average were travelling each day on the Donegal-Dublin service on a 78-seat aircraft.

"It was very much the same story for Kerry."

Ireland West-Knock does not enjoy PSO support for air routes like Kerry and Donegal.

Both receive a PSO grant each year to support air links to Dublin. Kerry received €3.3m and Donegal €4m.

However, in April just 56 passengers travelled via Donegal - and only 62 used Kerry Airport.

For Donegal Airport, the PSO subsidy effectively amounted to €5,952 per passenger journey in April.

At Kerry Airport, the PSO subsidy was €4,435 per passenger journey in April.

The pandemic has crippled the Irish aviation sector.

In April, Dublin recorded just 14,981 passengers compared to Shannon at 4,225 (mostly transfer passengers), Cork at 694, Ireland West-Knock at zero, Donegal at 56 and Kerry at 62.

A Department of Transport spokesperson said the provision of both the Donegal-Dublin and Kerry-Dublin air links are now being "kept under review".

"The (EU) regulation provides that financial support may be offered to airlines, based on a competitive tender, to operate essential services serving peripheral or development regions which are considered vital for the economic development of those regions and which would not otherwise be provided on a commercial basis.

"However, the provision of both services is being kept under review."