Pilots warn 5,000 more aviation jobs face possible axe

Ialpa urges Government to change position on rapid Covid testing

Members of the Irish Airline Pilots Association during a protest at the Department of Health. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Members of the Irish Airline Pilots Association during a protest at the Department of Health. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Up to 5,000 more Irish aviation jobs could be lost this winter if the Government does not ease travel curbs, pilots warned on Wednesday.

Pilots’ union president, Capt Evan Cullen, issued the warning shortly before Government chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan, told politicians that travel could restart this summer without the need to test passengers once enough people were vaccinated.

Speaking at a protest against the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) opposition to rapid antigen tests for passengers, Capt Cullen, president of the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association (Ialpa), warned more jobs could follow the 480 lost this week in Stobart Air.

“Five thousand more jobs will be lost this winter,” Capt Cullen warned the gathering, included large numbers of Stobart pilots. Around 4,000 workers have left the industry since the pandemic began last year.

He urged the Government to “listen to the science” and use rapid antigen testing alongside other safeguards to aid the return of air travel.

Ialpa delivered a letter to Dr Holohan, asking him to take part in a debate that it is hosting next Monday with Harvard university professor, Michael Mina, who has criticised Government opposition to antigen testing

.

Shortly after the protest, Dr Holohan confirmed to an Oireachtas committee that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) supported the Government’s plan to restart travel from July 19th.

He told politicians that once progress on vaccinations continued in the Republic and Europe “we will see extensive resumption of airline travel in the late summer without the need for any form of testing”.

Dr Holohan was responding to questions from the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks on the use of rapid antigen testing for international travel.

The chief medical officer said that was the case notwithstanding fears about Covid strains such as the Delta variant that has slowed re-opening in Britain.

He added that Nphet favoured the EU certificates that will allow anyone who has been vaccinated or recovered from the virus to travel “without the hurdle of testing”.

Demonstrators at the protest held up banners declaring that the Government had “sacrificed Stobart” and was “destroying aviation”.

Capt Cullen argued that Nphet, which has been advising Government through the pandemic, had “got it wrong on face masks, and now they’re getting it wrong on antigen testing”.

Manchester service

Meanwhile, Aer Lingus confirmed that it would delay the start of its Manchester-US services to September 30th from their original start date of July 29th.

The Irish airline plans to fly to New York JFK, Orlando in Florida and Barbados from Manchester this year, using aircraft originally earmarked for the Republic.

Aer Lingus added that it intends to launch the Manchester-Barbados service as planned on October 20th. It pledged to refund or re-accommodate passengers as appropriate.

US restrictions on travel from Europe remain in place, although there are efforts to reopen transatlantic flying.