The gap State must bridge on air travel continues to widen

Ireland weeks behind other countries on adoption of EU digital Covid certs

An empty Dublin airport. In 2019, before Government Covid-19 travel restrictions, airports here hosted around 38 million passengers. Photograph: Collins

An empty Dublin airport. In 2019, before Government Covid-19 travel restrictions, airports here hosted around 38 million passengers. Photograph: Collins

 

News that Montenegro hosted more flights than the Republic on Sunday – 314 against our 313 – shows just how far behind the rest of Europe the State is on air travel. The Balkan country is home to about 620,000 people, against more than four million here. Montenegro lured about 1.6 million tourists in 2019, less than a quarter of the Irish total.

Spain led the way in Europe on Sunday with 3,920 flights, according to air navigation body Eurocontrol. Our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, had more than 2,200.

In 2019, before Government Covid-19 travel restrictions, airports here hosted about 38 million passengers, we had direct flights to more than 200 destinations, including major cities across Europe and North America.

Flight numbers are now less than a quarter of what they were while passengers are down more than 90 per cent, according to the last official figures. The rest of Europe, meanwhile, has regained about 60 per cent of its pre-Covid air traffic levels.

Tentative steps

This month the Government takes the first tentative steps towards restoring what was an enviably big aviation industry for a small island nation. On July 19th, it will reopen international travel. At the same time, it is beginning to issue EU digital Covid certificates to fully vaccinated adults.

We are adopting that system, giving free movement in the union to anyone who is vaccinated, immune or has proof of a negative test, on July 19th. It came into being formally on the 1st of this month, but many EU states began operating it in June. The Republic is weeks behind other countries, particularly those which, like us, rely heavily on tourism.

Europe’s recovery is not likely to go smoothly. Fears over the speed at which Covid’s Delta variant is overtaking vaccination rates have slowed the pace, but not stopped it. Inoculations will catch up eventually.

There will be more bumps on the road but travel in the rest of Europe has been going one direction – up – since April, and that is unlikely to stop. Meanwhile, the gap the Republic must bridge continues to widen.

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