I have discussed airport charges with the chief executive of Ryanair, Mr. Michael O'Leary. As I already stated in the Dáil, I have also had discussions on the matter with the chairman of Aer Rianta in the context of my regular meetings with him. I will continue to consult on this issue with the air carriers and with Aer Rianta in the months ahead.
I am aware that Aer Rianta has decided not to introduce a new cycle of discount schemes for airport charges at Dublin airport in January next. However, benefits from the 1997 and 1998 discount schemes will continue to accrue to air carriers until 2003 and 2004, respectively. I believe this represents a prudent interim position for Aer Rianta, pending further decisions on airport charges by me in due course.
The chairman of Aer Rianta has informed me that he has commissioned a study on the existing structure of airport charges levied by the company. Consultants are expected to submit a report before Christmas, to facilitate the board in developing comprehensive proposals on airport charges to be submitted to me in due course for regulatory approval. In considering any such proposals, I will take all relevant factors into account, including the impact any change in the level of charges would have on airlines and, consequently, on air travellers generally, and including also the prospects for achieving a postponement of the loss of duty free within the European Union.
I am aware that Ryanair has announced its intention to develop five new routes out of London next year. Under European Union regulations, European airlines are free to operate on any routes within Europe, in accordance with their own commercial judgment. While I have no statutory function in this regard, I will obviously continue to encourage all airlines to provide as many new services as possible from Irish airports.