The influence of EU aviation policy on the strategic direction of Irish international and regional airports

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Daly, Bill
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University College Cork
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Since 1993, the stepped introduction of a liberalised air transport market within the European Union has dramatically altered the regulatory and economic landscape of air transport in Europe. Ireland’s participation in the single aviation market has benefited both business and consumers and opened access to a previously restricted, uncompetitive market. As an island nation Irish airports are critical to national infrastructure. The purpose and overarching objective of this research is to explore the impact of EU aviation regulation after 1993 on state owned Irish airports, in particular the effect of such regulation on the smaller regional airports of Cork and Shannon. The aim is to examine the main benefits and challenges posed by the current regulatory framework and whether it supports or hinders Irish airports. Using a qualitative approach, in the form of semi-structured interviews, data was collected from a small purposive sample group that consisted of eight senior management staff from the three state owned airports, Dublin, Cork and Shannon. The impact of EU air transport regulation over the past 30 years is examined through the lens of the varied managerial experience of each contributor. The responses are carefully analysed and considered in the context of liberalisation and the proposed objectives and advantages of a single aviation market within the EU. The findings point to some of the key benefits of participation in the single market but also expose some challenges in implementing the regulations. This supports some of the main findings in current literature pertaining to the effects of liberalisation and the on- going issues experienced by airports throughout the EU. My research appears to confirm that the smaller regional airports in Ireland are finding it increasingly difficult to absorb the costs of implementing EU regulation and a number of factors, in particular, challenge the viability of the regional airports, namely: 1. Security, as the requirement to consistently update and maintain security systems is a costly prerequisite to participation in the market. 2. Ireland’s commercially operated airports are geographically located in close proximity to one another. The airports are competing within the same catchment areas and seeking to capture similar tourism markets. 3. Cork and Shannon airport lack the capacity of Dublin and have lower bargaining power when dealing with larger, well-established airlines. While the number of airlines continues to decrease worldwide, successful mergers, acquisitions and alliances have led to the emergence of increasingly dominant, commercially strong operators capable of exerting increased pressure as they seek to reduce costs. Without access to state funding, and the cushioning support of state aid, Irish airports continue to explore opportunities to generate revenue as they attempt to become viable self-contained businesses operating in an increasingly competitive EU market. The principle conclusion of the research is that Irish airports, particularly smaller regional airports, are under increasing pressure to survive in a very turbulent industry. Irish airports need to validate their viability in the global and EU market and employ measures to counteract the increasing power of low-cost airlines. In addition, the devastating impact of the current global pandemic presents a range of new unprecedented challenges in an industry not necessarily braced for such extensive and rapid change.
Irish airports , EU aviation policy , Irish regional airports , EU airports , EU aviation regulation , EU aviation policy , Irish airports strategic direction
Daly, B. 2021. The influence of EU aviation policy on the strategic direction of Irish international and regional airports. MRes Thesis, University College Cork.
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