Ireland must beef up its air transport infrastructure or manufacturers in the key life sciences and high-tech sectors will lose out on important export opportunities, a hard-hitting new report warns.
In the first study of the airfreight sector in Ireland for over a decade, the Dublin-based Irish Exporters Association (IEA) says airfreight capacity decreased by 50 percent between 2007 and 2011. Including multi-stop as well as direct routings, it calculates that capacity out of Irish airports fell from 207,730 tonnes to 105,077 tonnes over the five-year period. The All Island Airfreight Study takes account of Northern Ireland as well as the Irish Republic.
John Whelan, chief executive of the IEA (left of photo), said: “World-class air transport infrastructure is an essential component of Ireland’s export capability, and will be essential if the country is to continue to be an attractive location for high value FDI.”
The study urges the Irish government to open negotiations with the U.S. authorities to provide a cargo pre-clearance facility for cargo at Shannon and Dublin, building on the existing passenger pre-clearance facilities at both airports.
Exporters questioned for the study said pre-clearance by the Food and Drug Administration would underpin the pharmaceutical and medical devices export sector and would encourage further expansion. Many global companies in this field operate production sites in Ireland and are prominent exporters by air, shipping a large proportion of their output to the U.S.
A recurring theme in the interviews with major exporters from Ireland carried out for the study was the poor quality of facilities at cargo terminals. Pharmaceutical exporters said cold chain facilities were very limited and could put at risk substantial future business opportunities.
The study says airport authorities and the relevant logistics companies must invest in upgrading their facilities to competitive international standards. Charges for airport cargo handling services are out of sync with Europe and must become more competitive, the IEA further claims.
Attracting new carriers is seen as essential. Whelan said: “The fall in airfreight capacity will only be addressed if the government devises innovative initiatives to incentivize new carriers to enter the Irish market.”
Given the importance of bellyhold cargo, he added that added that consideration should be given to reducing travel taxes. The IEA has lobbied the Irish government consistently on this point, arguing that exporters are constrained by the limited freighter capacity out of Ireland, and by the fact that many passenger airlines downsize their aircraft or reduce frequencies across the Atlantic in winter.