An Oireachtas committee has been told of the devastating impact of the Covid pandemic on Ireland's three regional airports at Donegal, Knock and Kerry. 

The Transport and Communications Networks committee heard that the coronavirus crisis had cut passenger numbers by 90%, forced staff lay-offs and redundancies, and scuppered ambitious marketing plans to increase services and passenger numbers for 2021.

But despite this, both Kerry and Ireland West airports hope to have services back to bring passengers home for Christmas, and also have plans to offer private PCR Covid testing facilities for passengers

The committee, chaired by Kieran O'Donnell, also heard that while airport management at the three airports welcome the announcement yesterday of a €6 million Government fund to assist regional airports, it's not yet clear how much funding each airport will receive, and that it may yet be subject to EU Commission approval.

Joe Gilmore, CEO of Ireland West airport, said they had been looking forward to growing their passenger numbers by 200,000 to one million passengers for 2021.

But instead they are now looking at a loss of €4 million and a drop of €11 million in their turnover, which he said had been pretty "catastrophic" for them. 

In addition, 100 of their staff were temporarily laid off, with a further 43 made redundant, and staff that remain are on a three day week.

Equally John Mulhern, CEO of Kerry airport said they were looking forward to a very promising year in 2020 marking their 50th year celebration and a 10% rise in their 370,000 passenger figures. But the Covid pandemic had lead to a critical decline in their business and marketing plans.

Kerry airport is also looking to provide a private off site testing facility near the airport for passengers at a cost of €80 a test.

Mr Gilmore said services from Ireland West to Luton, Liverpool and Stansted are resuming on 12 December and he expected they would have heavy bookings at a time when they normally carry 50,000 passengers into the country.

Anne Bonner, MD of Donegal airport, said it contributes €46.6 million to the regional economy, and indirectly supports almost 400 jobs in the county. 

She said with no rail service and up to a five hour road journey to Dublin, the airport service is seen as an essential one and the airport's future certainly depends on Public Service Obligation or PSO funding.

She said PSO funding would need to be extended beyond 2022.

There are currently no direct flights into Donegal as a result of Covid. It also lost its Logan air service to Glasgow until at least March.

A number of deputies and senators on the committee asked if the Department of Transport had told regional airports how much of the €6 million help fund announced yesterday had been allocated to them. They were told that had not been clarified yet. 

Chair Kieran O'Donnell said the committee would write to the Department of Transport seeking clarity on that issue and also about whether this funding was subject to EU commission approval, when funding for other state airports at Cork, Dublin and Shannon was not subject to such approval.