Why does Ireland have so many commercial airports?

The island of Ireland has quite a lot of commercial airports which see airline service. On the face of it, this might not seem too surprising, but when you consider the population, you have to wonder why there are so many.

The Republic of Ireland, with its capital Dublin, boasts a population of around 4.904 million people. Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and has Belfast for its capital city, has 1.885 million citizens. In total, this comes to 6,789,000 people on the island.

So How Many Airports Are There?

There are currently 14 airports around the country that have airline service. No big deal, right? Well, let’s consider that in the context of the populations. Northern Ireland has three airports for 1.9 million people, roughly the same amount of people as Brisbane, Orlando, Charlotte, Austin and Hiroshima.


Ireland has 11 airports, and if you don’t count the four that specifically serve the Aran Islands, that leaves seven for a population of 4.9 million people. Seven airports for a similar number of people as Boston, Washington DC, Sydney, Melbourne, Rome or St. Petersburg.

Is Distance The Issue?

In a word, no. In Northern Ireland, Belfast City (BHD) and Belfast International (BFS) are 22.5 kilometres (14 miles) apart and less than half an hours drive. Belfast International and City of Derry Airport (LDY) are 74km (46mi) apart by air and just under 1.5 hours apart by car.

Down in the Republic of Ireland, it’s not much different, especially on the west coast. Kerry Airport (KIR) is 70km (44mi) from Shannon Airport (SNN) and 97km (50mi) from Cork Airport (ORK), with Cork and Shannon being 100km (62mi) apart. It makes a nice little triangle.

Irish Airports Map
Elsewhere doesn’t fare much better. Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock (NOC) are 135km (84mi) apart, with these being 194km (121mi) and 177km (110mi) from Dublin Airport (DUB) respectively. Even Donegal and Derry, located in two different countries, are just 75km (47mi) apart.

To be fair, it does take longer to drive these distances than in other countries. Shannon to Knock, Cork to Kerry and Donegal to Derry take about 1 hour 45 minutes each. Shannon to Kerry is 1 hour and 30 minutes and Cork to Shannon takes about 2 hours. Highways are not really much of a thing in the Republic of Ireland. In places like the USA, these would be one hour drives, if that.

The Problem With So Many Airports

A lot of money has been spent on infrastructure that is not as well used as it should be. A number of the airports rely on government subsidies each year to remain viable. In fact, Galway Airport, located pretty much smack dab between Shannon and Knock, lost its airline service and closed entirely once funding was withdrawn.


Sligo lost airline service too, but remains open for general aviation. Waterford, which last saw airline service in 2016, is trying to raise €12m to extend their runway from 1,433m to 2,287m to attract new services. The Irish Government has agreed to put in €5 million, on condition that is matched, but nobody has joined that party yet.

Virtually all services at Irish airports fly mainly to the UK and Europe. There are only two major domestic routes, both operated under Public Service Obligation subsidy, which are Dublin to Donegal and Dublin to Kerry. The other subsidised routes operate from Connemara near Galway to the Aran Islands, which are vital for those islands’ connectivity.


2019 passenger figures help tell the story. Dublin saw 32.9 million passengers, Belfast International 6.2m, Cork 2.6m, Belfast City 2.4m, Shannon 1.7m, Knock 805k, Kerry 370k, Derry 203k and Donegal saw just 48,000. Having closely located facilities like Cork, Shannon and Knock or Belfast, Belfast City and Derry all competing for travellers means they ultimately all lose out.

Overall Thoughts

Of course, having an airport in your local area is an excellent thing. I would rather travel half an hour to my local airport than have to schlep for a couple of hours each way to get a flight. Economically, airports also potentially make areas viable for businesses to setup.

With Dublin, and to a much lesser extent Shannon, being the only facilities with flights outside of Europe, people travel from all over the island to fly from there anyway. It could be argued that many other airports could actually be closed, but that would only be realistic if public transport or roads were upgraded to make journey times far more efficient.

Did you know that Ireland had numerous commercial airports with airline service? Can you think of anywhere else with a similar situation in play? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Kerry by Photogoddle, Knock by Pampuco and Shannon by Wolf32at, all via Wikimedia Commons.

Why does Ireland have so many commercial airports?