Restoration of regional air routes expected before July 19th

Process expected to be completed early next month with contract to run into early 2022

The Dáil was told about Government supports for the aviation sector, that by the end of June these would amount to €450m. File photograph: Getty

The Dáil was told about Government supports for the aviation sector, that by the end of June these would amount to €450m. File photograph: Getty

 

The Government aims to restore regional air services between Dublin and airports in Donegal and Kerry by July 19th when international air travel resumes.

Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton said an emergency procurement process to restore the routes is expected to be completed early next month with a contract to run for seven months.

Ms Naughton, who has responsibility for the aviation sector, said acknowledged importance of having these services in place by July 19th.

A procurement process for a further four-year contract will also be launched to apply when the temporary contract ends, she told the Dáil.

During a debate on the aviation sector the Department of Transport was also accused of not pursuing “aggressively enough” the use in trials of antigen testing at airports, as the controversy over such testing was raised by both Government and Opposition TDs.

Ms Naughton said her department had suggested the use of this testing several times but the public health advice was against its use.

Speaking about the regional air routes she said Aer Lingus and BA CityFlyer are now operating temporary services on the remaining Stobart Air routes out of Dublin and Belfast following liquidation of the airline last week with the loss of 480 jobs.

In the emergency procurement process the department will contact airlines directly seeking quotes for the contract.

Ms Naughton said she deeply regretted the job losses but noted that job cuts had been a feature at other airlines including 24,000 at Lufthansa, 10,000 at IAG and 5,000 at KLM. “These job losses have arisen even with the provision of substantial State supports and is indicative of the scale of the crisis in the sector.”

Scheduled carrier flights have been down about 60 per cent but optimistic forecasts suggest that if more states relax restrictions sooner and implement the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate traffic levels could be back to 69 per cent of 2019 traffic levels in August.

Ms Naughton also highlighted Government supports for the sector and said that by the end of June these would amount to €450 million.

On the controversy over the use of antigen testing Ms Naughton said that her department had on several occasions suggested “the possible use of antigen testing for the purpose of reopening international travel”, most recently in correspondence with senior Government Ministers and included “consideration of antigen testing to replace RT-PCR tests for international travel perhaps on a pilot basis initially”.

But she said the public health advice was that “antigen testing is not suitable for the purposes of supporting international travel”.

Antigen testing

Sinn Féin transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke said it was clear that the Department of Transport “has not pursued this avenue aggressively enough”. He said “it’s not enough to say the department raised the proposed use of antigen testing. The whole point was to generate in a risk-free way a pilot study within the current constraints.”

Labour transport spokesman Duncan Smith accused the Government of “not asking the right questions” about antigen testing. He said the Minister had stated she had asked about using antigen testing to replace PCR tests.

Fianna Fáil Clare TD Cathal Crowe said confusion and huge anger about the testing was growing. He said chief medical officers in 17 other EU states deem it safe as a form of testing. He said it was only four weeks until international travel resumed. “The logical thing to do is to pick a route and test a cohort of passengers coming in out and prove that this is viable and safe.”

Mr Crowe also hit out at the cutting of jobs of people employed for 30 years while those who joined just before the pandemic at lower rates were still employed.

“If you’re allowing the taxpayer to cover your wage bill for past 15 months then you better look after employees,” he said.

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