Interview: Dublin Airport MD Vincent Harrison

Dublin Airport MD Vincent Harrison tells Routes about the airport’s recovery during the summer season; what new routes have been secured; and why its new North Runway will be vital for future growth.

Credit: Ocean Driven Media
Vincent Harrison, MD of Dublin Airport.

How has Dublin Airport (DUB) performed during the summer season? How have you managed the challenges associated with scaling up activities?

It's been a good summer for passenger figures. The surprisingly swift removal of COVID-19 regulations in Ireland resulted in a huge desire to start traveling again but left very little time for the aviation sector to adapt and prepare for the change. Ramping up an airport operation after two dormant years, when passenger numbers globally were decimated was not an easy task. Coupled with that was the uncertainty of forecasting with most commentators not anticipating a return to 2019 levels until 2024 or 2025.

In terms of passenger numbers, in the space of two years Dublin Airport went from 100% to 5% and then back up to 80%+ of our record level of 32.9 million passengers in 2019. During the summer months of June, July, August and September this year, we handled more than 11 million passengers, bringing recent passenger numbers back above 90% of pre-COVID levels. In total, more than 20.9 million passengers have traveled through Dublin Airport in the first nine months of 2022.

We mobilized a company-wide task force at Dublin Airport at the end of March and this task force of back office and other non-frontline staff continues to support the operation particularly at weekends and peak times. After a challenging start to the summer season, in July, August and September, virtually all passengers passed through security screening at Dublin Airport in under 30 minutes—highlighting the progress that we have made with our operation to cope with the recovery.  

What new airline partners and routes have you secured?

Dublin Airport has welcomed five new airlines so far this year and has had many airlines relaunch routes previously operated pre the pandemic. The most recent airline to launch a new route is EgyptAir with a direct route from Dublin to Cairo (CAI), four times per week. Emirates has also returned to their pre-COVID schedule from Dublin to Dubai (DXB), operating twice daily. Aer Lingus routes already announced for Summer 2023 are the return to Hartford (BDL), Connecticut, and a new route to Cleveland (CLE), Ohio. There are currently 43 airlines operating from Dublin Airport connecting passengers across the island of Ireland to over 180 destinations worldwide. 

How optimistic are you for the winter season given the current economic uncertainty?

As our business stabilizes, we now face a new set of challenges: more unknowns in the wider international economy. We know that aviation is a complex business with a lot of challenges to be managed from accessibility to sustainability. Now, there are additional concerns that further economic uncertainty lies ahead that has the potential to impact on the pent-up demand for travel.

The latest research from Tourism Ireland across our top 10 markets in September 2022, indicates that 31% of consumers say that rising costs will have no real impact on their spending for travel and that even those who are worried about rising costs expect to travel more in 2023 than 2022 and that they are going to take more short breaks and more holidays than they did pre-COVID-19. This is encouraging news with so many other dark clouds on the horizon in terms of global inflation and the war in Ukraine.

How important is the opening of the new North Runway for your development? What has the project entailed?

Between 2014 and 2019, passenger numbers increased by around 50% to a record 33 million in 2019, making Dublin Airport one of the fastest-growing large airports in Europe during that period. Our main runway, which is used for 95% of all landings and take offs, was effectively full at peak times so the airport required additional runway capacity.

Construction of our new North Runway began in 2016 and opened on Aug. 24 this year and within the airport’s existing land bank, which was safeguarded for over 40 years. This build was achieved as the construction of vital national infrastructure continued through the pandemic, with the project delivered on time and within budget. Costing €320 million ($311 million) North Runway (designated 10L/28R) was delivered on schedule and on budget by [airport operator] daa at no cost to the Irish state. The new runway will support the creation of 31,200 new jobs and €2.2 billion ($2.14 billion) in additional economic activity.

Following on from the North Runway development, Dublin Airport is progressing at pace its planned capital investment program, which will include a refurbished Terminal 1, new piers, gates, stands and transfer facilities, that will present further opportunity to a range of long-haul destinations, particularly in fast-growing economies in Asia, Africa and South Americas.

Looking forward, we forecast that passenger numbers at Dublin Airport will grow to around 40 million passengers by 2030 versus 33 million in 2019 and a forecast of 28 million in 2022.