Aviation could take three years to get back to 2019 levels, says Ross
No timeframe set out for unrestricted flights as other EU states set clear resumption dates
Minister for Transport Shane Ross said he was concerned the aviation industry has no certainty when business might regrow and this of itself is a significant destabilising influence. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Minister for Transport Shane Ross has expressed concern that the aviation industry has “no certainty” about the regrowth of its business which could take three years to get back to 2019 traffic levels.
He said the roadmap for reopening society did not set out any time frame for the resumption of aviation, “nor is there any clear definition of the conditions that need to be achieved to allow such a resumption on an unrestricted basis”.
Speaking in the Dáil during a debate on the impact of coronavirus on the aviation sector, the Minister said there was a consensus that recovery would be slow in the aviation industry “with some predicting that 2019 levels of traffic will not be achieved again until 2023”.
He warned that “the human cost will be high” because of the uncertain future and the “inevitable employment impact”.
Mr Ross said “I am concerned that the industry has no certainty when business might regrow and this of itself is a significant destabilising influence”.
Aviation is estimated to contribute up to €12 billion to the economy and 30,000 jobs in direct employment.
Mr Ross told the Dáil that “public health considerations must predominate and we cannot take actions that potentially undermine the good work we have done in bringing Covid-19 under control”.
He said measures when flights return to normal could include “physical distancing where possible” and the wearing of medical grade face-coverings.
When asked about Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary saying it was safe to travel, he told Green Party TD Joe O’Brien that “everyone has a particular axe to grind. Michael O’Leary is in the business of selling seats”. The Government had to take note of the concerns of industry but also had to consider health issues.
“The health of the nation is the most important factor we have to consider.”
But Fianna Fáil spokesman Marc MacSharry accused the Minister of “kicking the can down the road” with a “talkshop” taskforce which would report in five weeks and “inform us what the stones on the road in the industry seem to know”.
Other EU members had set out clear dates for re-starting commercial travel, starting in June and early July following guidelines from the European Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Control.
They included Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Greece, France, Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Belgium and the Czech Republic.
Sinn Féin spokesman Darren O’Rourke highlighted the Minister’s comments about no certainty in recovery and said that everyone was looking to Mr Ross for guidance and leadership on the issue.
Earlier Tánaiste Simon Coveney warned that Irish people should not be planning to travel abroad despite advertisements for flights to Spain, Italy and elsewhere.
“Those who go abroad, when they come back, will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days,” he insisted.
However he said “under the five-stage opening-up period there will be an opportunity to take well-earned breaks and holidays, we hope, in late June and in August, or before then if it is safe to speed up the pace of the opening-up period”.
Fine Gael Dublin Mid-West TD Emer Higgins said many people are eagerly awaiting their holidays abroad once restrictions are lifted.
But they were concerned that despite applying early to renew expired passports they had yet to receive the new document because of backlogs in the passport office where staff had been redeployed to contact tracing for those affected by coronavirus.
Mr Ross said that from next week online passport applications would be dealt with speedily and people who had applied by post should re-apply online. They would be refunded the fee paid in their “paper application”.