Aer Lingus could be ‘wound up’ without State support, union chief warns

Covid-19 committee told airline losing €1.5m a-day with overseas travel restrictions in place

The Government has handcuffed the aviation industry and ‘thrown it in the river’, said pilot union leader Evan Cullen. Photograph: Tom  Honan for The Irish Times.

The Government has handcuffed the aviation industry and ‘thrown it in the river’, said pilot union leader Evan Cullen. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times.

 

Pilot trade union leader Evan Cullen warned TDs and senators that Aer Lingus could be wound up without state aid or an easing of travel restrictions.

Mr Cullen, president of the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa) told the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that Aer Lingus was spending €1.5 million a-day with little or no revenue coming in.

“I do not believe it can last much longer, I do not believe any organisation can afford to burn €1.5 million a-day,” he told committee member, Fine Gael TD Colm Burke.

Mr Cullen pointed out that Aer Lingus owner, International Consolidated Airlines’ Group (IAG), had liquidated smaller carriers within the organisation that fly under its low-cost Level banner.

He argued that the group was protecting its pillar airlines , including British Airways, which has received credit guarantees from the UK government, and Iberia, which will get up to €1 billion from Spain.

At the same time, Mr Cullen noted that Aer Lingus and other carriers had received nothing outside wage subsidies from theGovernment, while other EU countries had pledged a total of €30 billion in aid to aviation.

The Government is persisting with restrictions including a 14-day quarantine, despite a general easing on travel bans across the EU since June. It continues to advise people against “non-essential” travel.

Mr Cullen pointed out that the Republic’s travel restrictions made it an “outlier” in the EU, while the Government had given zero aid to any Irish airline.

The Government had handcuffed the aviation industry and “thrown it in the river”, he declared.

The trade unionist argued that the Government needed to strike a balance between public health precautions and the need to revive the Republic’s struggling avaition industry, which supports 140,000 jobs.

He also pointed out that the State had ignored protocols, set jointly by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Control, which allowed for safe air travel.

At the same time, he said that Irish authorities had not introduced testing and tracing for passengers arriving into the Republic’s airports.

Mr Cullen explained that all modern aircraft use the same air filters as those found in hospital surgeries.

These already protect against highly infectious diseases found in many countries, including tubercolosis.

He maintained that by continuing to restrict travel while providing no aid to airlines, the Government was having its cake and eating it.

“If the Government is determined to keep going, then they need to give us assistance before there’s no aviation industry left,” Mr Cullen said.

Neil McGowan, Siptu aviation divisional organiser said that the union feared compulsory redundancies at Aer Lingus, where it represents ground crew and maintenance staff.

The airline recently told the Government that intended to begin formal talks on cutting up to 500 jobs from its 4,500-strong workforce with unions and staff.

However, Mr McGowan, whose union represents 1,500 Aer Lingus employees, said Siptu had not heard anything further from the airline about these consultations.

He noted there was also growing concern for the future of 800 people working for ground handling company, Swissport.

Mr McGowan said that aviation workers in the Republic had taken pay cuts of between 20 per cent and 70 per cent, while many had been laid off temporarily.

“The outlook for the aviation sector in the short term is bleak,” he warned. “Any possible green shoots have failed to materialise and workers are now facing into a long winter.”

He stressed to the committee that despite dramatic drops in earnings, aviation workers ensured the supply of essential goods, including medical supplies and personal protective equipment, during the pandemic’s “darkest days”.