Real decline in travel steeper than official figures suggest

State’s ‘massive’ support for aviation – but have other countries done more for sector?

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe: Aviation ‘among the biggest beneficiaries of pandemic wage supports’.  File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe: Aviation ‘among the biggest beneficiaries of pandemic wage supports’. File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

If you really needed proof that travel in or out of the State has slowed to a trickle, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) provided it on Monday.

Its figures showed that 54,800 people travelled into the State in February, while 53,200 left, a total of 108,000. This compared with 1.2 million travelling in each direction, a total of 2.4 million, in the same month last year.

Air travel accounted for most of last month’s movement, with 50,500 people flying in and 48,700 flying out. So an average of 3,460 people travelled through our airports every day in February.

Anyone who thinks this is large should look at the context, it is about 5 per cent of the total for February 2020, the month before Government Covid-19 restrictions grounded air travel.

But the real decline is even steeper. In 2019, total average daily traffic through Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Kerry, Knock and Shannon airports was 104,500. February’s total is just 3 per cent of that. Thus, in real terms, Covid-19 travel curbs have wiped out aviation.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe told European Movement Ireland yesterday that the Government has provided “massive” support for aviation, which he added, was among the biggest beneficiaries of pandemic wage supports. His colleague, Transport Networks Minister Hildegarde Naughton, told the Seanad recently that those subsidies came to more than €200 million.

Debt guarantees

However, Donohoe did not mention the €30 billion that other EU governments have handed to legacy carriers in grants, tax deferrals, loans and debt guarantees. Germany gifted Lufthansa alone more than €9 billion last year.

Donohoe acknowledged that return of safe travel is the “best support” that aviation can get. This obviously hinges on quickly vaccinating everyone, something neither the EU nor our Government appear capable of doing.

Monday’s CSO figures also pointed to one other support that the State can give aviation: axe draconian quarantine rules that incarcerate some travellers for two weeks at their own expense. With so few people arriving here in the first place, we simply don’t need them, but they will prove a barrier to reopening the State when the time comes.

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