CORK AIRPORT will completely close its doors for three months later this year in order to undergo essential works on its runway.
Despite being severely impacted by the pandemic, with passenger numbers remaining low amid a collapse in air travel, Cork airport is set to close completely for 10 weeks from September of this year.
It is unclear when international travel will be allowed and encouraged once more, but Cork airport will remain closed until at least 22 November to allow for runway works, so will not be welcoming any passengers regardless of whether the industry picks up.
According to RTÉ News, the airport will close following the summer season in an effort to reopen in time for the Christmas season, with the hopes that the surface pavement of the runway will be replaced by that time, along with other essential work.
Cork airport has suffered a 95% drop in passengers since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Irish shores in March 2020, and around 7,000 routes in and out of Ireland have been stopped since that time.
Members of the government have already called on Irish people not to take trips abroad this year-- or return home to Ireland next Christmas-- after an explosion in cases in January was partly attributed to thousands of people flying in from abroad for the festive period.
Mandatory Hotel Quarantine is also in effect for passengers flying from 'high risk' countries including the United States, France and Italy; anyone entering Ireland from these countries must stay in a designated hotel for 12 days.
The introduction of the quarantine has led to a further drop in air travel into Ireland.
Reacting to the news of Cork Airport's closure, the Irish Travel Agents Association said it was disappointed to hear it would close "right at the point when international travel is set to pick up again", and said the upgrades should have been done earlier in the year.
"While we understand that it is essential to have the runways resurfaced, this is a long standing issue which should have been addressed before now," CEO Pat Dawson said in a statement seen by RTÉ News.
"With so few people using the airport at the height of the pandemic, it would have been easy to work flight schedules around completing the runway upgrades in order to allow the airport to reopen when the threat of Covid-19 has passed."
In a statement to The Irish Post, Kevin Cullinane, Head of Communications at Cork Airport, outlined its position.
"Cork Airport has been progressing at pace the detailed engineering design and funding for rebuilding the Main Runway since last summer when the decimating impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry was readily apparent," Mr Cullinane explained.
"We are and have remained opened throughout the pandemic, serving repatriation flights, essential travel, medical and organ transplant flights, search and rescue missions as well as for cargo operations.
"With passengers numbers still down 97 per cent it makes prudent business sense to fast track major capital investment projects now, while the airport is extremely quiet."
He added: "The reconstruction of the main runway at Cork Airport, when completed later this year, will be a key strategic asset for the South of Ireland for the next 20 years.
"Management at Cork Airport has been engaged with all its major stakeholders in relation to the runway reconstruction and remediation project since last autumn, given it is the single biggest construction project at Cork Airport since the opening of the new Terminal Building in 2006.
"In our extensive planning, we have also undertaken workshops with over 20 other international airports in the UK and Europe who have completed similar capital projects in recent years.
"Public tendering commenced back in November in accordance with EU procurement guidelines for a major capital project of this scale and we plan to award the contract next month.
"We will continue to be open all Summer this year, round the clock, for whatever flights are operating and we will then complete the rebuilding runway project over a 10-week off-peak period allowing us to reopen for what we plan will be a busy Christmas and a bumper 2022 for everyone in the travel industry."