Monday 30th May 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of Ireland West Airport Knock. It is inspiring to see that 25 years on and three years into a national recession this resilient airport marks the busiest month, April, on record and the year 2011 is set to mark the busiest year in the history of the airport when it is envisaged that it will achieve a new high of 640,000 passengers. From its humble beginnings the airport now serves 25 international destinations and hosts four of Europe’s biggest international carriers in Ryanair, Aer Lingus, flybe and bmibaby.
Looking back over 25 years it is interesting to mark some of the many milestones which pave the defiant path to its current status.
From the start the airport signalled its international status. With a runway long enough to land large aircraft, Monsignor Horan, its charismatic founder, was able to charter the first flight to Rome in 1985. Sadly, the Monsignor passed to his eternal reward in 1986 while on a pilgrimage in Lourdes but the visionary project he had started was to continue on its eventful, challenging and defiant journey to even better things.
By 1988 100,000 passengers were using the airport with a new Irish airline called Ryanair opening its first route to London Luton. Today Ryanair operates 12 routes from the airport and flies more passengers from Ireland West Airport Knock than from any other airport outside Dublin and Cork and was the airline that underpinned its survival right through the lean nineties. Ryanair, now, the largest European airline is shortly to reach its four millionth passenger at the airport.
By the 1990s passenger numbers peaked at ¼ million with Ryanair expanding and Aer Lingus adding a route to Birmingham. The airport continued to defy sceptics and was never short of spawning some interesting and unlikely news stories. Prince Charles and Tony Blair were among many of the world’s dignitaries that touched down in that decade and it was rumoured that Ross Perot the US oil billionaire and Presidential candidate was interested in buying the airport. A young politician called Enda Kenny became Tourism Minister and secured some modest marketing funds of €66,000 for the airport. Just recently Enda Kenny TD touched down on Mayo soil for the first time as Taoiseach and one suspects that the airport might be upping the request from €66,000 in the near future.
The 2000s saw not just an expansion of the airport but a transformation. Perhaps the most significant but least heralded development was the airport achieving CAT 11 landing status, more plainly understood as the ability to land aircraft in poor weather and low visibility conditions. This together with its growth in flights and passenger numbers to almost ¾ million finally moved the airport up and away from its famous “foggy boggy” image. There has been a physical transformation too. Those expecting to see a set of low sheds parading as an airport will be surprised to see a new modern terminal building, enhanced retail and catering offerings and real time flight data screens befitting of a major international airport.
Where to from here?. The airport now serves more UK destinations than any other airport on the West coast and is rapidly expanding its offering of sun holiday destinations. Every year it brings in thousands of tourists to the North and West regions and sees growing potential in developing access from continental Europe, in Germany, France and Italy and continues to eye the US market.
Airport Chairman, Liam Scollan, says ‘To understand the phenomenon that is popularly known as Knock Airport you have to see it as not just a place and an airport but a state of mind. Right from the time of Monsignor Horan all of us connected with it have had to draw on reserves of endurance, innovation and even defiance. We are now the fourth largest airport in the State and have 40% share of the UK market from the West of Ireland. Provided we continue to have that spirit there will be a good future and maybe one day we will be the second largest airport in the country’.
Airport Managing Director Joe Gilmore says “The challenges facing the airport into the future are focused on maintaining the very high standards in safety, security, operational efficiency and customer service, whilst continuing to manage costs in a very competitive environment. I also wish to acknowledge the continued support of the travelling public who have used the airport over the past 25 years and will continue to use it as the airport expands its catchment area and further develops its route network into Mainland Europe and the US’.
If the great Monsignor Horan was alive today he would be immensely proud of the legacy he left behind and how it has developed over the years. There is no doubt he would continue the crusade to drive the airport forward to truly deliver on its undoubted potential as an economic beacon for the West and North West regions of Ireland.
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