In September 2018, 11 months after joining, he announced a €2 billion expansion plan for Dublin Airport that would position it to handle 40 million passengers a year.
In 2019, a record 35.5 million people used Cork and Dublin. Then Covid arrived in 2020, slashing this to a 26-year low of 7.9 million, leaving DAA with a €284 million loss.
It will also be better-paid. Philips took a cut in 2020 that left his basic salary at €216,724. Including pension contributions, he earned €366,270 that year. His total for a record-breaking 2019 was €398,641, including full basic pay of €250,000.
Coveney earned €1.16 million in 2021. His basic pay was €851,000 while his €251,000 pension payment topped the €250,000 at which the Government caps the DAA chief executive’s salary.
This may not be the reason Philips is leaving, but it is something the board will have to consider when appointing a successor. Kevin Toland, the previous DAA chief executive, similarly appointed from outside, also left for a much higher-paid job at Aryzta.
The other question is whether or not the board will once again look outside the DAA. Philips was the third “external” chief executive, following Toland and Declan Collier.
Board membership has changed significantly since Philips’s appointment, with eight directors joining since 2018. They could well favour an internal candidate. If so, there are some obvious choices: Niall MacCarthy, who runs Cork Airport; Vincent Harrison, managing director of Dublin; DAA International chief Nicholas Cole; his Aer Rianta International counterpart Ray Hernan; and finance head Catherine Gubbins.
It goes without saying that if the salary cap becomes an issue and the Government is willing to alter it for an external candidate, it will also have to do so for anyone from DAA’s ranks.