Government warned aviation ‘will not bounce back’ from coronavirus pandemic
Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has been criticised for a lack of clarity on the adoption of the EU traffic light system.
Aviation bosses have warned the Government the sector will “not bounce back” from the coronavirus pandemic as they called for flying restrictions to be lifted.
Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has said the Government will seek to support and implement new European measures to introduce green and amber zones for safe travel within the EU.
But he was criticised by airline chiefs when he could not provide a timeline for their introduction.
Mr Ryan told the Oireachtas Transport Committee the Government wants to “work with European countries where we can say ‘Yes, we are recommending that it’s safe to travel again’.”
He added: “There has been a conflict or a difficulty within Government because there’s also an imperative towards public health and avoiding the risk of the virus coming in from international travel.”
EU leaders will meet on October 13 to decide whether to adopt a so-called “traffic light system”, where countries would be designated green, amber or red – depending on their safety based on levels of the virus.
The Transport Minister said he anticipates that EU member states will agree to the measures – which include testing at airports – but said they will not be rolled out immediately.
He said: “There will be a period of time that it will take to put the enforcements in place, we have to be clear about that.”
Aer Lingus CEO Sean Doyle said: “I am concerned that what we will get on the 13th will be nowhere near full adoption, based on what we just heard.”
Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson has criticised the Government’s response as “catastrophic” and said every other European country has returned to flying.
He said Ireland has effectively said “we’re closed for business” as he urged the Government to urgently adopt the EU traffic light system.
The Government seems to think it's going to bounce back. It isn'tRyanair CEO Eddie Wilson
He told the committee Ryanair would have to take “drastic decisions” including shutting its Cork and Shannon operations.
He said Irish airlines were being left behind by European rivals, and needed clarity to make decisions on their summer 2021 schedule.
He said: “If we don’t make those decisions now, next summer that traffic will migrate elsewhere in Europe.
“It’s not going to bounce back. The Government seems to think it’s going to bounce back. It isn’t.”
The DAA chief executive Dalton Philips also warned that it was “dangerous to assume that routes withdrawn in the last six months will simply re-emerge overnight”.
He said the DAA’s airports were “running on empty” with passenger numbers returning to levels not seen since 1995.
“We’ve lost 25 years of growth,” he said. “Our sector has been demonised since this pandemic began. Other key sectors have been allowed to reopen with the understanding and acceptance that there is an element of risk involved.”
He cited losses of 150 million euro since the pandemic began and said industry sources had suggested it would be 2024 or beyond before they see a recovery in the sector.
Mr Ryan earlier told the committee the issue was a priority for Government, saying Cabinet was discussing it at “every single meeting” and there was “no lack of will” in terms of resolving the issue.
Junior transport minister Hildegarde Naughton said: “Now we’re in a situation where the outlook going out to 2023, 2024 it’s looking at that point in relation to recovering passenger numbers.
“You can be assured that we as a Government are looking at everything we can to support this industry.”
Under the traffic light system, passengers arriving from green and amber countries would not have to quarantine or restrict their movements.
A testing regime will be introduced for passengers from red countries, who would also have to quarantine.
But airline bosses say that restrictions on green and amber countries could be lifted right away.
“We just need Government will to unblock this” Mr Doyle said. “The biggest single enabler will be the adoption of the simple protocols for green and amber, which don’t require testing.”