Plan to restart air travel needs long-term preparation to begin taking off

Industry urges Government to act as restrictions left Aer Lingus with €563m loss

Governments in the Republic and United Kingdom this week announced plans for reopening as vaccines ease – and hopefully end – the Covid-19 crisis. The Republic is focused on living with the virus, with a possible review in April.

In contrast, the UK provided conditional reopening dates beginning, coincidentally, in April, for shops, gyms, hairdressers and other services. By the end of July, if you really want, you may be able to go nightclubbing in Britain.

Basically, we’re staying closed for now, they’re aiming to reopen. They may miss targets but the direction is clear. The UK is closing on 20 million vaccinations, mainly first doses, which is about a third of its population. On Friday, the Republic was at 238,000, one in 20, while most do know when or where they will be inoculated.

In fact, there is no real plan here for what happens next. Few Irish politicians or officials will admit this, but it has not been lost on businesses. A fortnight ago, transport industry figures voiced concern to tourist body Fáilte Ireland's board at the Government's lack of a post-Covid strategy. The group included Aer Lingus chief executive Donal Moriarty and Eddie Wilson, who has the same role at Ryanair DAC.



Following the release of figures showing that Covid-19 restrictions left Aer Lingus with a €563 million loss last year, Moriarty and the airline called on the Government to begin working now with the industry on a plan to restart air travel, which needs long-term preparation to begin taking off again.

The fact that Aer Lingus has obvious reasons to seek this does not lessen aviation’s critical importance to a nation whose prosperity stems from exports, mobile investment and tourism. Fear of new Covid-19 strains may have swung the public mood against travel, but that will swing back again as we – eventually – get vaccinated.

This swing will become a U-turn when the UK, Denmark and other countries, which are managing this a lot better, begin accelerating their reopening. So a failure to move now will not only have consequences for employers and workers, it will have implications for the Government's own standing with the people it fears the most, the voters.