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Knock Airport's Passenger Numbers Soaring

Irish Times - Friday Aug 20th 2004


by Theresa Judge

It may not be what Msgr Horan had in mind when he fought to get Knock Airport, Co Mayo, built in the 1980s but foreign sun holidays to such exotic locations as the Caribbean and South Africa have become a major part of the airport's business.

Overall passenger numbers have increased dramatically in recent years from 200,000 in 2002 to an expected 400,000 this year, but the number taking charter flights has increased more than tenfold in the same period.

"We expect charter flight passenger numbers to reach at least 25,000 this year. It is a huge growth area for us," according to airport chief executive Liam Scollan. The airport now has flights to 25 different destinations and while sun holiday locations change depending on the time of the year, these include Alicante, Malaga, Majorca, Lanzarote, Cyprus and Cadiz. Pilgrimage tours to Lourdes, Fatima, and Medujorje are also offered.

But more recent additions include tours to South Africa and skiing holidays in Andorra, and weekend breaks in Prague are also planned. Scollan expects this growth to continue and the aim for 2005 is to start flights to the US. Market research carried out for the airport indicates demand is there for 10 additional UK destinations, 11 more sun holiday destinations and up to nine US destinations.

The big attraction of Knock, it appears, is convenience. For people in the west a flight from Knock means no long drive to Dublin, no city traffic to get stuck in, much lower car-parking charges, and a generally more personal service.

"People can literally have their lunch in Mayo and be in Lanzarote in time for evening tea. The most repeated comment, we get is that it takes the stress out of travelling. And people are even more grateful when they are returning at the end of a holiday, when they just want to get home as quickly as possible," adds Scollan.

Outbound charters this year have generally been more than 90 per cent full and the airport's catchment area has been increasing with people from as far away as Donegal, Cavan and Westmeath using it. Regular passengers are quick to praise the service and the management team, who have ambitious plans.

Ballyhaunis Bank of Ireland manager Dave McConn has flown out of Knock frequently both on personal holidays and in bringing GAA teams to Britain for matches.

"I know from personal experience and from the people I meet in business that it is just a given now that you use Knock if you can at all. People wouldn't dream of using anywhere else now. The time saving is brilliant - you save at least half a day on each flight. And they have an excellent service - it is as professional as you'd get anywhere but it's also very personal," McConn says.

One of the first people to try to organise tours and charter flights out of Knock was Paul Claffey, of Mid and North West Radio. He laughs now remembering how he was told in the mid-1990s that market research had found that people wouldn't go on holiday from Knock because tbey wouldn't want their neighbours to know where they were going.

Over the past four to five years he has proved otherwise. Working with tour operators, he organises music holidays which involves bringing performers such as Tommy Fleming and Paddy Cole on the holiday to provide nightly entertainment.

He sometimes takes over an entire hotel for the week. "People who go on sun holidays, who are past the disco stage, always complain that there's nothing to do after 9 o'clock at night. But the concept of music holidays has worked remarkably well. There's a bit of fun and craic - it's like being at a wedding for a week," he says. In the past he has organised trips to the Caribbean and later this year has two tours scheduled for South Africa.








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