DAA fears turbulence unless law is changed around new runway

Dalton Philips warns of rough ride and curbed growth unless noise restrictions lifted

DAA chief executive Dalton Philips says restrictions around a new runway would cost 14,700 jobs over 20 years.  Photograph: Peter Houlihan/Fennell Photography

DAA chief executive Dalton Philips says restrictions around a new runway would cost 14,700 jobs over 20 years. Photograph: Peter Houlihan/Fennell Photography

 

Dalton Philips, the nonchalantly urbane chief executive of Dublin Airport’s owner, DAA, is as polished a performer as there is in the semi-State sector.

So when he uses a media results briefing to telegraph his alarm at Government delays overshadowing a €320 million new runway project – Philips casually dropped verbal bombs about how potentially “catastrophic” the ramifications could be for Ireland’s economy – you can be sure that it is calculated.

On Wednesday, while announcing DAA’s 2017 results at the Hibernian Club on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green, Philips took care on several occasions to signal his disquiet over hold-ups to new laws that the DAA desperately wants enacted.

Planning permission for a new runway on the north of the airport site has been in place for several years and DAA is at an advanced stage of choosing a building contractor.

Work is due to start by the end of the year and is scheduled to finish sometime in 2021, before the planning permission runs out in 2022. Two draconian legacy conditions attached to the project, however, have muddied the landing strip.

Under existing rules around noise restrictions, DAA would not be allowed to use the new runway between 11pm and 7am. For an airport that has positioned itself as a globe-bisecting hub receiving flights from a multitude of time zones, this is more than a little inconvenient.

The entire airport would also be restricted to 65 aircraft “movements” nightly. It already facilitates almost double that number. The new rules would kick in when it builds the new runway.

DAA wants the State to pass promised legislation for a noise regulator – Fingal County Council is currently pencilled in – to help it circumvent the two offending conditions. Philips says it needs to happen this year.

Restrictive regime

If the rules are not changed in time, he claims, the restrictive regime would result in Dublin Airport losing the capacity to facilitate 2.4 million annual passengers “overnight”.

DAA believes this would torpedo its growth strategy, and inflict needless damage on the Irish economy.

The State-owned company claimed on Wednesday that the restrictions would cost 14,700 jobs over 20 years. This could be a stretch but you get the picture it is trying hard to convey: the impact would be awful.

Shane Ross, the Minister for Transport, said this week that he is on the case. The draft heads of a Bill are currently with his department, he told Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy on Tuesday. Yet 18 months ago, he was promising legislation to make, not Fingal, but the Irish Aviation Authority the noise regulator.

“This is a critical piece of national infrastructure which has been delayed because of the Minister,” said Troy. “No legislation is ready. There is fear within the industry [the DAA and its airline customers] that not enough priority is being given to this legislation in order that it will be progressed at speed.”

“This is a bit of an old record from deputy Troy, telling me I have got to meet this, that and the other person,” replied Ross.

“I have met the heads of Ryanair and Aer Lingus, and have met the head of the DAA on several occasions. Sometimes they want to raise this subject and sometimes they do not. On the issue of the industry being worried about a slowdown, I do not get that vibe. I do not know where the deputy is getting that from.”

In the Hibernian Club the next day, everybody present got that vibe, loud and clear.

Third terminal

At the results briefing, where it was also revealed that DAA’s turnover was up 8 per cent and passenger growth (including Cork) by 6 per cent, Philips also addressed the issue of whether Dublin needs a third terminal. His verdict: no.

Almost 30 million passengers used Dublin’s two terminals last year. DAA’s strategic masterplan envisages expanding passenger numbers up to 55 million by the mid 2040s. Philips claims this can be facilitated without building a new terminal. Extending the existing buildings, and constructing new gates and aprons, would suffice, he claimed.

He reminded the briefing that Terminal 1 used to handle 24 million passengers annually on its own, before Terminal 2 opened in 2010.

There was no reference to how hellish that overcrowding was for passengers before Terminal 2 opened. The old airport didn’t earn its “black hole of Calcutta” moniker for nothing.

For the DAA, the possibility of a third terminal raises the spectre that a private operator could be selected to compete with the airport owner, which may be why it is so keen to work with what it has for the foreseeable future.

“At some stage, a third terminal will be needed. The question is whether it’s for our children, or for our grandchildren,” said Philips, displaying an extreme sense of optimism at odds with his alarm, however calculated, over the runway.

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