A PLAN to build an international airport in Co Offaly has cleared the first hurdle after a decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant it “strategic infrastructure” status.
The decision means the developers of the proposed airport at Tubber will be able to apply directly to the planning board and will not have to submit an initial application to the local authorities.
The planned €200 million development, 20km east of Athlone and 80km west of Dublin, is a private initiative led by Tullamore-based architect, Patrick Little.
The 640-hectare site is in an area that An Bord Pleanála described as “lightly populated” and “relatively level” and is 640 hectares in area.
Mr Little said he had secured the backing of eight investors, and their financial commitment to fund the project was “pretty firm”.
The project does not have any State funding and the Department of Transport said it had “no plans to support the development of any new airports”.
In a statement yesterday, the department said its policy was that private individuals could develop airports in “whatever location they wished”, provided they met standards set down by the Irish Aviation Authority and secured planning permission.
It added, however, that “the financial demands of running an airport are very challenging and it is, of course, a matter for airport promoters to satisfy themselves that a new airport can function as a viable commercial entity”.
Mr Little said the backers were “keen to see that the midlands will benefit from its gateway status and develop in a sustainable way”.
The airport would be situated close to the M6 motorway, and the project includes the construction of a railway linking it to the Dublin-Galway mainline rail route.
Mr Little said he had been in consultation with Iarnród Éireann and the company was “excited” about the application. Travel time from Dublin to the new airport would be 65 minutes by road, and 45 minutes by train.
The project would cater for both passenger traffic and commercial cargo traffic.
The developers estimate the airport would cater to two million passengers a year by 2020.
A “good number” of low-cost airlines had made expressions of interest, Mr Little said. In a statement, Ryanair said: “If Tubber airport is to be a low-cost facility, we will certainly consider offering Ryanair’s lowest fares to and from Co Offaly.”
Aer Lingus declined to say if it would operate from the airport.
Mr Little expects to submit a planning application within the next eight months. An Bord Pleanála will hold oral hearings before deciding whether to grant permission. Mr Little said he was confident the project would get permission, that construction would commence within the next 12 months and that the airport would be open at the end of 2013.