Dublin Airport charges plan aims to put consumers first

Previous ministerial directions have favoured State company DAA

Minister for transport’s right to intervene in the process could be coming to an end. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Minister for transport’s right to intervene in the process could be coming to an end. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

New proposals for regulating Dublin Airport’s passenger charges look set to get rid of one flashpoint between airlines and the Government: the Minister for Transport’s right to intervene in the process.

The Commission for Aviation Regulation sets the maximum that Dublin can charge every five years following a consultation process that normally ends up in a row of some sort. The regulator must take the airport’s financial sustainability/viability into account as it does this. At the same time, the minister has a statutory power to can intervene and give directions to the commission while it is reaching a decision.

Not surprisingly, ministers have regularly invoked this power. During the last consultation in 2014, the then minister, Paschal Donohoe, directed the acting commissioner, John Spicer, to “ensure that Dublin Airport Authority’s financial viability is protected” when he made his final decision.

In 2009 a previous minister, Noel Dempsey, stepped in to the debate with a similar direction, aimed at ensuring that the State airport company had enough cash to build a second terminal.

Airlines, particularly Aer Lingus and Ryanair, reacted with outrage, arguing that the ministers’ interventions favoured the airport operator, DAA. There was some justification in this – both directions did favour the State company. Neither minister appeared to have given much thought to whether this was the right thing to do at the time.

The proposals published yesterday by the current Minister, Shane Ross, want consumers’ interests to come first. The changes, detailed in the National Policy Statement on Airport Charges Regulation, require that the regulator simply take Government aviation and airport policy into account when consulting on the charges.

That should please the airlines, who hold themselves out as custodians of consumers’ interests. However, buried deep in the turgid officialese of yesterday’s statement is a suggestion that all “stakeholders” would be represented on a Government-chaired working group that will have some role in the process.

That could mean somebody who actually represents consumers having some influence on how the charges are set. The chances are this will be one of the usual worthies who sit on such groups, so their influence will be negligible. Nevertheless, it will still be interesting to see how airlines react when they see that consumers have even a theoretical voice in the process.

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