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Comer brothers spearhead ‘game-changing’ €30m investment in Waterford Airport

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The billionaire brothers’ first major investment in the South East will see an extended runway at the airport to facilitate first international commercial flights since 2016

This multi-pronged investment, which aims to develop up to €30 million, has been agreed by Comer Group International, led by Luke and Brian Comer, and is the company’s first significant offering in the South East of Ireland.

Around half of the overall sum comes from the deal with the Comer Group, led by Waterford based investor and business leader William Bolster, with the remainder to be sought from a process to begin with central and local government funding.

Construction, flooring, and engineering firm Bolster Group has been driving forward the development of Waterford Airport since commercial flights last operated from the site in 2016. Company executives say the deal represents a major vote of confidence in Waterford and will create jobs and boost economic growth, as well as bringing the airport “back to life”.

The investment was announced at an event attended on Friday by Finance Minister Michael McGrath TD. The new runway will have the capacity to service large and mid-range airliners such as the widely used Airbus 320s.

It will see summer and winter holiday destinations across Europe being linked to Waterford, capital of Ireland’s South-East. London is set to be the first destination as early as the end of 2024 with others to follow.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “This significant private investment is hugely important for Waterford and the South East region. An extended runway would really help to boost the whole region’s international connectivity, benefitting both Irish and international passengers for years to come.

“I’ve been a long supporter of Waterford Airport since my time as Minister for Transport and as Taoiseach. The previous Government made the decision to match funding for the runway project once the private investment was secured, albeit at a lower level of €5 million. As I said recently in Waterford, the principle of matched funding remains, subject to the business case being agreed. Further Exchequer funding will be required, and I urge all parties to progress the business case as soon as possible.

“The Government and I strongly believe that balanced regional development is good for the country as whole. We want every part of the country to share in our prosperity and securing good jobs and investment is one of the most effective ways of doing that. Improved connectivity through Waterford Airport would make the South East an even more attractive place in which to live, work, do business and raise a family. It would also help to open up this beautiful region to many more visitors.”

In a joint statement Comer Group Director Luke Comer and William Bolster, Executive of Waterford Airport said: “We are delighted to announce the runway expansion, which will reopen up travel to the UK and European destinations all year round.

“Those local to the area have had to travel to Dublin or Cork to catch flights over the last seven years and the time absolutely felt right to bring the airport back to life with much needed investment and put Waterford firmly back on the international map.

“We believe this expansion will be welcome news for locals, driving tourism and business opportunities, as well as the Irish population who have made their home in the UK.

“It will be a real game changer in terms of bringing back travel to the region.”

Luke and Brian Comer are among Ireland’s most prolific and successful private investors, with more than €1bn worth of property investments in Ireland alone. Starting out as plasterers in London in the 1980s, they have built an extensive property portfolio that also stretches from the UK to Greece.

In Waterford for Friday’s announcement, Finance Minister Michael McGrath TD said: “I welcome today’s announcement of additional private investment in Waterford airport. An extension to the runway would make the South East an increasingly attractive destination for both leisure and business travellers from overseas. Similarly, it will make it easier for people across the region to travel internationally.

“This has the potential to boost economic growth in the region in the decade ahead and complement significant investment already planned for Waterford including in urban regeneration and the South East Technological University.”

Michael Walsh, Chief Executive of Waterford City and County Council said: “This is a monumental moment for Ireland’s oldest city.

“I pay tribute to the investors who have a clear vision for the future of the airport. Thanks to their vision and drive and subject to the agreement of the Council, Government and the shareholders, Waterford Airport can look forward to a bright future.”

Dan Browne, the Chairman of Waterford Airport added: “This is a real vote of confidence by all concerned in the local area and a step forward in terms of local economic success as well as bringing up tourism numbers.

“It will serve the people of Waterford, and beyond, incredibly well and we look forward to welcoming increased numbers of passengers, and flights, through our doors.”

Waterford Airport is the only airport located in the South-East of Ireland. The airport opened its doors in 1985 with Ryanair’s inaugural flight departing for London Gatwick. It serves as a base for the Irish Coastguard helicopter Search and Rescue service.

Waterford Fine Gael Senator John Cummins, who is a former member of the board at Waterford Airport, welcomed the confirmation of €12 million in private sector investment by Comer Group International in partnership with the Bolster Group to develop the runway extension at Waterford Airport.

The significant development now clears the way for the business plan seeking matching funding to be submitted to the Department of Transport, which is expected to be sent early next week, he said.

Senator Cummins said: “This is a very welcome development. I have been kept up to date on how these negotiations were advancing over the last number of months by William Bolster and Michael Walsh, and I believe huge credit must go to them, chairman Dan Browne, the board, and management at the Airport for bringing about this very significant funding commitment by the private sector.

“The next step is to take the business case to the Department, and I expect it will be very well received by government. I have constantly liaised with the Taoiseach on this matter since I was on the board of the airport. He has been a vocal supporter of our goal to develop a runway in the South East capable of servicing the main aircrafts of choice by most major airlines, B737’s and A320’s.

“As recently as September 30 at Fine Gael’s Small Business & Enterprise Conference held in the SETU Arena, the Taoiseach restated his commitment to the principle of 50:50 funding.

“When questioned on WLRFM about the doubts expressed by some at the prospect of developing a commercially viable proposition at Waterford Airport, the Taoiseach was very clear in saying ‘maybe it is viable.

“We haven’t seen the business plan from the airport but if it is viable, I think we should support it. We made a commitment in the last government to provide €5 million funding which was to be matched by the private sector. The cost of everything has gone up as we know so that 50:50 principle in my mind still stands and I think the real advantage there is the potential to have a direct link from London to the Southeast which would be hugely valuable from both a business and tourism perspective for lots of reasons’”.

Senator Cummins added: “For my part, I will continue my engagement with the Taoiseach on this critically important project for Waterford and the South East region. As was the case ahead of the 2019 cabinet decision, I will also liaise with my Fine Gael ministerial colleagues to ensure their full support should a proposal be brought to cabinet and I am certain other Waterford Oireachtas members will do likewise with their respective parties”.

“I have always believed in the ability of Waterford Airport to offer the essential direct connectivity to the region that we require to grow our business and tourism offer. The runway expansion project ticks a huge number of boxes and would undoubtedly drive the propulsive growth envisaged for Waterford in the National Planning Framework”, concluded Senator Cummins.

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