Thousands of aviation jobs will be lost this year if the Government delays for six weeks before adopting the EU’s digital Covid passport, pilots warned on Monday.
The European Parliament and European Council reached final agreement last week on the EU digital Covid certificate, which will allow citizens of member states to move freely in the bloc from July 1st.
Capt Evan Cullen, president of the Irish Airline Pilots' Association (Ialpa), said the Government should adopt the certificate immediately on July 1st, and not wait for the full six weeks allowed by the EU before implementing it.
“They are going to destroy thousands of jobs if they wait until the middle of August,” he predicted.“There will be no recovery in 2021, and awful lot of people will, at best, be laid off until next March.”
The European Commission confirmed that from July 1st citizens of member states would have a legal right to the certificate, allowing anyone who has been vaccinated, has tested negative, or is immune to the virus to travel freely in the EU.
A spokesman said the commission wants member states to adopt the system as soon as possible after July 1st, but confirmed that they had up to six weeks to implement it.
Capt Cullen was speaking after Ialpa presented the Government with its plan to reopen the Republic to international travel and met officials and senior politicians to press its case.
He pointed out that summer was the time when airlines earned much of their revenues, and said the loss of a second holiday season would further damage an aviation sector already suffering from more than a year of lockdowns.
Ialpa proposes that the Government adopt the EU certificate from July 1st as the technology needed is in place, as well as axing controversial hotel quarantines for travellers from the US and EU.
Tightest in Europe
Around 4,000 jobs in airlines and airports have been lost or are under threat following almost 15 months of travel restrictions, which the industry maintains are the tightest in Europe.
The Government is due to announce its plans for reopening travel on Friday. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said recently that it would be six weeks from June before the State can issue certificates.
And, at the weekend Government figures indicated that it would be August before the State put its system in place.
Along with finalising agreement for the digital certificates, originally proposed in March, the EU has taken several other steps to open the bloc for travel this summer.
Last week the EU agreed that it would allow in fully-jabbed visitors from outside the bloc once they had been inoculated with vaccines approved by its medicines regulator.
The digital green certificates feature a public key showing that the holder is vaccinated, immune or has had a negative test. National directories hold the public keys, which are exchanged through a central EU system, allowing each member state to validate certificates issued by all others.
The central system, or gateway, will be ready on June 1st. Member states are due to begin connecting to it from that point, to allow the system to begin functioning EU-wide from July 1st.
In the Seanad on Monday, Minister of State Malcolm Noonan said Aer Lingus landing slots at London’s Heathrow airport would not be affected by the airline’s decision to close its Shannon base and temporarily lay off staff at Cork Airport.
Responding to concerns from Fine Gael Senator Michael Conway, Mr Noonan said the State had certain connectivity commitments with International Airlines Group (IAG), which expire in September next year, and “Aer Lingus cannot dispose of those slots without prior consent from the Minister for Finance”.
He said Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Junior Minister Hildegarde Naughton met the airline’s chief executive last week who, he said, told them the company was not attempting to reduce connectivity at the airports but that “restoration of services depends on market circumstances”.