Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill, 1971: Second and Subsequent Stages.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to enable Ireland to participate in an international scheme to collect charges from airlines for en-route air navigation services which we supply.

In common with other aeronautical authorities, we incur expenditure under two broad classifications in respect of air traffic control, radio navigation, communications and meteorological services provided for air transport. The first head comprises terminal services at airports such as approach and takeoff control, instrument landing aids, radar monitoring and meteorological and general information.

The second type of service comprises those provided to aircraft en-route to ensure safe and accurate navigation and these are provided not only for aircraft travelling to and from our airports but for aircraft crossing our airspace on their way to other destinations. These services, generally described as en-route air navigation services, include air traffic control, radio aids, radar, telecommunications and meteorological services. Up to the present the only charges we have made are landing charges for aircraft using our airports and a special telecommunication charge per contact for aircraft on the North Atlantic route using our telecommunications service.

The recovery of en-route costs by an individual State presents difficulties where the air routes traverse the control area of several States and/or vertical sectors of routes subject to control by different authorities. In such cases the only satisfactory means of recoupment is on the basis of inter-State co-operation. Such co-operation is possible under the aegis of the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, known as Eurocontrol. This organisation, of which Ireland is a member, together with Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, was set up with the object of controlling air traffic in the upper airspace of the seven member States—above 25,000 feet in the case of Ireland—while the member States are directly responsible for these services in their respective lower airspaces. Meteorological services in both the upper and lower airspaces are the direct responsibility of the member States.

The cost of route air navigation facilities and services has been constantly increasing and will rise considerably in the years ahead owing to the automation of control services which will be necessary to cope with the growth and density of air traffic in western Europe. Eurocontrol member States have been considering the ways in which they could recover the cost of these facilities in the form of charges levied on the users. Following lengthy study of the problem, the member States eventually decided that Eurocontrol should introduce a charging system which is in line with recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation which has also carried out a study of the problem.

Under the charging scheme proposed, there will be a single charge for each flight calculated according to the distance traversed and the weight of the aircraft. The scheme will come into effect from 1st November, 1971. Eurocontrol will operate the scheme and collect the receipts. The receipts less the actual cost of collection will be distributed to the member States in proportion to their costs in providing these services. For the first two years it is aimed to collect only 15 per cent of costs plus the cost of collection but the long term aim is that the full costs of these services should be met by the air transport industry for whom they are provided.

Section 12 of the Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Act, 1963, provides for the making of regulations for the payment of fees to Eurocontrol, or to the Minister for Transport and Power for transmission to Eurocontrol, in respect of air navigation services provided by Eurocontrol. The section also covers payment of fees to the Minister in respect of services provided by the Minister. The section, however, would not enable Eurocontrol to act as agent for the Minister in the collection of route charges. The purpose of the Bill is to replace section 12 by a new provision which will enable the making of regulations to provide adequately for the new system of charges. Regulations, as provided for under the Bill, will be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.

Because the proposed charge will be a single one applying to the lower airspace, which is the responsibility of member States, as well as to the upper airspace it is necessary that a multilateral agreement be entered into by the member States, the main provision of which is to require the member States to establish the proposed charge in the airspace falling within their competence. For the collection of the charge it was necessary to complete a series of bilateral agreements between each member State and the Eurocontrol organisation, the main provisions of which are that each member State entrusts to the organisation the collection of the charge on its behalf and undertakes to take statutory powers to make it obligatory on airlines to pay the charge to the organisation. The organisation is required to distribute the receipts to the member States less the cost of collection.

These agreements were signed by the Irish Ambassador in Brussels in September, 1970. The multilateral agreement was signed with reservation as to ratification, to be followed by ratification when this Bill becomes law. The bilateral agreement with Eurocontrol will not become operative until the multilateral agreement enters into force following ratification by all member States.

I recommend the Bill to the House.

Mr. O'Donnell

This Bill is an extension of the Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Act, 1963. There is nothing controversial in this measure. It is a straightforward piece of legislation rationalising the arrangement in respect of the charges for the utilisation of airspace over different countries. This Bill emphasises the colossal growth of aviation in recent years and the colossal problems created as a result of that growth. The introduction of larger and faster aircraft plus an increase in the volume of air traffic have created immense problems for air traffic control. We have fortunately escaped the increased volume and the problems created for air traffic control operators in places like Heathrow, Kennedy Airport and other international airports.

Air traffic control has been made more difficult with the advent of air piracy, which has come to be known as "hijacking". I happened to be at Shannon Airport last Sunday when an aircraft was diverted to Shannon en route from London to Washington because of a hijack or bomb scare. This is a factor with which airlines have to contend today and it presents air traffic control personnel with certain difficulties.

Air traffic control is a most fascinating and highly sophisticated business. I have sat in on practical demonstrations at Shannon and tribute must be paid to our air traffic control staff. They are involved in the wider context of Eurocontrol. We should be immensely pleased at the way in which our staff have maintained the high standards they have. They were, of course, sent to Europe for training. They are the equal of, if not better than, their colleagues in other countries. That should be a source of great satisfaction to us.

Our record in the matter of air safety has been outstanding. I am not aware of any accident blame for which could be pinned on a slip-up on the part of air traffic control personnel. I have no hesitation in giving the Minister this Bill. The Minister must have established a record since Christmas from the point of view of legislation here. I think it is not generally recognised that a great deal of constructive work is done here in Parliament. I like to give credit where credit is due. I have always found the Minister most reasonable. He has been most courteous in meeting suggestions put forward by Opposition Deputies and very ready to bring in amendments to meet points raised by Opposition Deputies. It is only right that I should pay him this tribute. Personally, I am very grateful to the Minister.

I thank Deputy O'Donnell for his remarks and I reciprocate them because I have always had the same kind of co-operation from Opposition Deputies. As he said, this is not a controversial measure. Hijacking will be the subject matter of further legislation I shall introduce in October.

The Deputy referred to air traffic control. This exemplifies the benefit of European co-operation. This has been in existence now for some years. I support what the Deputy said in regard to our air traffic control. Those trained in Europe have done excellently. They are a credit in every sense of the word. As Deputy O'Donnell said, this is highly sophisticated work. It is of growing importance because of the growing number of aircraft. The Bill is, of course, designed to ensure that charges are collected on behalf of the various member States which subscribe to Eurocontrol. It is an enabling measure to ensure the work is done.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for Final Consideration and passed.