Republic risks becoming ‘Europe’s North Korea’ on air travel, says Aercap chief

Restrictions make State an ‘outlier’, according to Aengus Kelly

Aercap chief executive Aengus Kelly. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Aercap chief executive Aengus Kelly. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

The Republic risks becoming Europe’s North Korea if the Government ignores evidence that increased air travel has not boosted Covid infection rates, according to Aengus Kelly, chief executive of aircraft leasing giant Aercap.

Mr Kelly, a member of the Government’s Task Force on Aviation Recovery, said that coronavirus levels have fallen across Europe since air travel began to increase from a low of 2,099 flights on April 12th.

He warned that the Republic risked becoming the European equivalent of North Korea if it persisted with travel restrictions while the rest of the EU has resumed flying. “We are clearly an outlier in Europe,” Mr Kelly said on Tuesday.

Passengers must restrict their movement and contact with others for 14 days after arriving in the Republic, while the law also demands that they fill out a form giving their location here for that period.

Aercap’s figures show that flights in Europe hit a low of 2,099 on April 12th, when more than 30,000 new cases of coronavirus emerged daily across the continent.

Last Friday there were 14,600 flights across Europe, but virus infection rates have fallen sharply.

“Since April there has been a huge upsurge in traffic, but over the same timeframe the number of coronavirus cases has fallen dramatically,” Mr Kelly noted.

He said that the same pattern emerged in China, where air travel began to recover from a low reached on February 21st.

Mr Kelly argued that this showed that there was not a clear link between air travel and Covid-19 infection rates.

He called on the Government to take this into account when making decisions that hit livelihoods in tourism and other businesses.

The task force report, published last week, pointed out that tourists from overseas spent almost €9 billion in the Republic in 2018 against €3.3 billion for domestic holiday makers.

At the same time, it said businesses depended on air travel for overseas sales, expanding into new markets and mergers and acquisitions.

‘Dramatic impact’

“I think what’s very important is that Government looks at all the data available to it before it makes decisions that have a dramatic impact on all families in this country,” Mr Kelly said.

He recommended that the Government open travel to countries with similar rates of coronavirus infection to the Republic, but added he was not advocating travel to those where rates continued to be high.

Mr Kelly pointed out that the EU produced protocols for flying in June while it also recommended a list of countries that are safe for travel.

Aercap is the world’s biggest owner of commercial aircraft, with 1,035 planes on its books and a futher 300 ordered.

It leases the craft to airlines around the world. Its biggest customers are in the US and China.

Mr Kelly stressed that Aercap had “no axe to grind” in the Republic, which is only a small fraction of its market.

He argued that as the only English-speaking country in the EU after the UK leaves the bloc at the end of this year, the Republic would have a “massive opportunity” to attract foreign investment.

Opening up to air travel would allow the State to sieze that opportunity, Mr Kelly said.