The company responsible for running Dublin Airport warned it would not be able to afford extra staff to keep passengers happy when it came to security queues, cleanliness and unforeseen problems with airlines.
In correspondence with the aviation regulator over plans for passenger charges, Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) said there was a political and public expectation that it would step in, in the event of flight delays, weather issues or other unexpected cancellations.
The airport authority said the new charges were being set too low given the pressures they were under “in clear unanimity across print media, radio and TV, and social media”.
The authority told the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) that calculating staff needs based on pre-Covid levels was failing to heed “operational lessons” learned during the pandemic.
DAA said it was clear that passengers at Dublin Airport expected to see “greater resilience and system redundancy” in place to avoid some of the problems that dogged it last year.
The airport authority said the Department of Transport had repeatedly raised issues both during last summer and in the run-up to Christmas 2022 about how the airport was functioning.
A letter from DAA chairman Basil Geoghegan said: “[We] share the view of the Ministers, the department, the JOC [Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport], the airlines and the travelling public in this regard. We believe that the correct staffing levels must be higher than the pre-Covid era would suggest.”
In a last-minute plea for charges to be set higher, Mr Geoghegan said there was an expectation on DAA to deal with any problems that cropped up, no matter whose fault they actually were.
It had been expected to “step in” after mass airline cancellations due to IT problems and a build-up of unclaimed and lost luggage, even though it was not to blame.
Mr Geoghegan wrote: “DAA is committed to stepping into the breach to assist our airline customers and passengers as far as possible during such failures and to ensure passengers can continue to travel safely and effectively.”
He said passenger charges were being set at pre-Covid levels and did not reflect Dublin Airport’s crucial importance as a “vital travel connection” for the island.
DAA requested that staff from the aviation regulator attend the airport during the peak Christmas rush to see operations and pressures first-hand.
In response, the CAR said it was not its job to direct DAA on how many people to employ at the airport.
A letter sent last December said: “The points made by you relate to matters on which the commission has consulted on with interested parties and must be considered in that context.”
It said consultation had also taken place with Aer Lingus, Ryanair, industry bodies, financial credit ratings agencies and other stakeholders, many of which had different points of view.
CAR said that given the consultation process had begun at the beginning of 2022, it could not see any justification for extending the time for a final decision.
Asked about the records, a spokesman for DAA said the regulator’s decision on passenger charges was “bad news for passengers and airlines” at Dublin Airport.
“The unanimous calls from our passengers, Government, airlines and other stakeholders for DAA to recruit greater staff numbers to cope with anticipated future demand have fallen on deaf ears in the regulator’s offices and with their consultants,” he said.
“[This will disallow] the recruitment of up to 240 of the staff needed at Dublin Airport by 2026, which greatly undermines DAA’s proposition to keep queues below 30 minutes [a CAR service quality target] and our own standard of 20 minutes.”