Although you can never be sure, it looks like the recovery in Irish air travel will begin in earnest this year after 2021’s stuttering start. Dublin Airport hopes to attract 70 per cent of the record near 33 million passengers who travelled through it in 2019, the last normal year.
That could still lag much of the rest of Europe, but it is probably a prudent prediction. Ryanair will actually increase summer routes from Dublin to 120, its highest ever from the Irish airport. Meanwhile, Aer Lingus is restoring its schedule and will increase the number of transatlantic flights, although the carrier will serve fewer North American destinations.
The two Irish carriers will remain Dublin’s biggest players, but the airport will have 52 airlines flying more than 200 routes this year, more than in 2019. There’s plenty of appetite for travel, too, so airlines and airports can look forward to plenty of outward traffic.
Taxpayers are funding this with €90 million that the Irish airports will use to lure airlines by offering rebates against passenger charges. It’s a lot of money, but could be needed to continue the momentum.
Hopefully the scheme works. If it does, Government will quickly take credit for spending our money on it. But would taxpayers have needed to provide this cash in the first place if the Coalition had not taken such a determined anti-travel stance through the pandemic?
This time last year the Government introduced quarantines that forced people from EU countries and the US into hotels for two weeks, at their own expense. The Coalition banned “non-essential” travel and the State prosecuted people for going abroad.
It compounded this in the spring by greeting industry calls for a reopening plan with stony silence. Finally, the Government refused to reopen the Republic until mid-July, even while fellow EU states eased restrictions more than a month earlier. More than 5,000 workers lost their jobs, while the policy contributed to the closure of Stobart Air.
Critics correctly called the Republic’s restrictions the toughest in Europe. As a consequence of Government policies, Irish air travel, vital to the State’s prosperity, has more recovering to do than most this year.