The billionaire Comer brothers – the Galway-born investors who own a huge property portfolio across Europe – have agreed to pay up to €20m to buy a majority stake in Waterford Airport, the Irish Independent has learned.
The deal is a major coup for the region and a vote of confidence in the airport and its potential to serve the Southeast. The purchase price includes a significant investment program for the facility, which is expected to begin almost immediately.
Luke and Brian Comer are among Ireland’s most prolific and successful private investors with property investments worth over €1 billion in Ireland alone. They started out as plasterers in London in the 1980s and have built an extensive property portfolio that also stretches from the UK to Greece.
Their deal to acquire a majority stake in the airport ends a long period of uncertainty for the gateway, which has been trying to find strong investors for years.
It is understood that Waterford Airport has already begun project work on a new runway extension to resume scheduled commercial service.
The construction of the runway extension is seen as instrumental in attracting airlines to the gateway. It has not had any scheduled commercial services since 2016. It is currently a base for a search and rescue helicopter and is used by private aircraft.
Ryanair and Aer Lingus Regional – which is operated by Conor McCarthy’s Emerald Airlines – are likely to be among those courted to launch flights from the airport. Talks with airlines are believed to be already underway.
Ryanair’s very first services operated from Waterford to the UK when they launched in 1985. In 1992, services at the airport were discontinued.
It is understood that the development of a hotel, logistics and storage facilities are part of the potential development plans. This could make the airport an air freight hub for large international logistics and retail companies, as well as for industries in the region such as pharmaceuticals.
William Bolster was the airport’s controlling shareholder. He and Waterford City and County Council CEO Michael Walsh spearheaded efforts to find new investment for the facility.
It is understood that Mr Bolster will retain a significant minority interest in Waterford Airport and will continue to be closely involved in further development plans.
Existing shareholders, including Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford County Councils, will further dilute their small holdings as part of the sale. The many small shareholders include Dawn Meats and Coolmore stud.
Planning permission was granted earlier this year to extend the runway by almost 900 meters at Waterford Airport. This allows jets of virtually any size to land at the gateway. It was originally expected to be 12 million euros, but the projected cost has now increased up to 16 million euros due to inflation.
The government has pledged €5m for the runway bill, while the three municipal co-owners have agreed to top up €2m.
It is hoped that within five years of the runway’s completion, Waterford Airport will be handling about 1,120 one-way flights per year and 345,000 per year overall, according to an earlier report prepared for the City and County Council of Waterford, than the project that applied for approval for it.
It is also understood that a solar energy park is planned next to the airport to improve its environmental friendliness. This would power the airport from the solar farm and sell excess power to the national grid.
The Comer brothers’ assets in Ireland include the Palmerstown House Estate and a number of residential and commercial properties in the UK and Germany. They also have hotel holdings in Greece.
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/billionaire-comer-brothers-have-agreed-to-pay-up-to-20m-to-buy-waterford-airport-41903865.html The billionaire Comer brothers have agreed to pay up to €20m to buy Waterford Airport