Ireland North West MEP, Pat the Cope Gallagher, along with over 45 MEP colleagues from several different EU Member States have written an open letter to the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, expressing concerns regarding draft proposals on state aid guidelines to airports and airlines.

The draft guidelines by the European Commission will change the rules that permit EU Member States through national, regional and local authorities to invest in airport infrastructure, to provide operating aid to airports and to provide start up aid to airlines in order to launch a new air route. The European Commission are expected to approve the new rules by the beginning of 2014.

Pat the Cope Gallagher MEP stated today: “I am extremely concerned with the proposal by the European Commission to phase out operating aid for regional airports with over 200,000 passengers per year, after a 10 year transitional period.

“Having discussed the matter with MEP colleagues from across the political divide and from different Member States throughout Europe with regional airports in their constituencies, we decided to raise the matter at the very highest level with President Barroso.

“As a fairer and better solution, we urge President Barroso to reconsider the proposed guidelines so as to allow operating aid to regional airports with less than 1 million passengers per year.

“I don’t expect any major implications for Carrickfinn in Donegal as passenger numbers are below the threshold of 200,000 passengers per year.

“That said, I am concerned about the implications of phasing out aid over a 10-year period and the impact for Ireland West Airport in Knock as passenger numbers per year are in excess of 700,000.

“Knock is an extremely important airport for the entire North West region and they are currently increasing investment in facilities and infrastructure. Any capping at 200,000 passengers would not be beneficial to Knock airport in the medium term.

“I shall also pursue the matter with the Irish Government, urging immediate action to prevent the adoption of these guidelines that will impede the development of regional airports in the North West.”