City of Derry Airport is attracting fewer passengers than at any time in nearly 10 years and is operating at a loss amounting to more than £14 million since 2010.
That is according to a report presented to Derry City and Strabane District Council on Monday night. Ratepayers in that council area are covering losses of £2.45 million per year.
Despite the overall cost to ratepayers, chairman of City of Derry Airport Operations Ltd, Roy Devine, predicted “better days” ahead.
City of Derry Airport employs 75 permanent staff and an additional 33 staff on flexible contracts with roughly 17 flights departing each week.
Passenger numbers have now dropped well below 300,000 per year, down from a peak of around 450,000 in 2008.
According to the report, passenger numbers had been declining steadily since then.
Mr Devine admitted the airport wouldn’t begin to break even at any time for the next five years.
The number of passengers declined significantly during the height of the financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn with as few as 338,000 passengers through the airport in 2010.
Despite a recovery in 2011, passenger numbers have declined again thanks in part to the loss of key services, including the connection to Birmingham. In 2015, fewer than 300,000 passengers used the airport.
Responding to calls from an Independent councillor, Paul Gallagher, to develop an “exit strategy” so that ratepayers would no longer be forced to subsidise what he described as a “vanity project”, Mr Devine said closing the airport would damage the economy.
“I do acknowledge things are challenging at the moment but we do believe there are better days ahead and we would ask council to stay with us,” he said.
“I think the airport is vital to the infrastructure of the north west. I think the city would be poorer without having it.”
DUP councillor Drew Thompson, who chaired the meeting, said: “The airport is a hugely important and vital piece of infrastructure and a key driver to our local economy.
“We are aware of the difficulties facing us with regard to the reduction of services, airport departure tax and the global financial crisis, but we are fully committed to continue with the positive work we are doing with the NI Executive, airlines and our key partners to maximise the opportunities that exist so we can maintain existing routes and secure new routes for the region.”