When I finished speaking on the Aviation Bill the other evening I had sought assurances from the Minister regarding the equity that would be used in terms of various airport charges. For instance, I was particularly concerned about the way in which the Department of Health and Children administers funds to disabled people, where overheads end up costing about 60% of the charge and the cross-subsidisation that has been going on in Aer Rianta. The Minister, in her regulations to the commissioner, will have to clear up this matter in order to overcome the difficulties.
I support the suggestion that has come from the employees of Shannon Airport who are looking for a general manager to represent the aviation commission in each of the airports who would report directly to the commissioner. This is most important because of the way in which the growth of Dublin Airport has overshadowed the other two airports – Cork and Shannon. For that reason, a certain amount of independence is required by the two airports to deal with the regulator/commissioner who will be responsible for these charges. Will the Minister consider this matter before going further with the Bill?
As far as the independence of airports is concerned, there are also problems with regard to their development. For instance, international companies have expressed an interest from time to time in setting up at Shannon Airport but decided against doing so because there is no cross runway allowing them to land 24 hours a day in all kinds of weather. Most aircraft today can land provided they are provided with the necessary infrastructure. I know the lighting system has been improved in Shannon Airport but it needs further upgrading. A cross runway is needed to give the airport international status for the future. The problem with this Bill is that if some kind of independence is not established by regulation, Dublin Airport will continue to suffer from growing pains, which is unfortunate.
There used to be a highly thought of service at Shannon Airport, namely, the in-flight catering. The equipment at Shannon Airport has aged and new investment is needed. There appears to be a hesitancy in Aer Rianta to reinvest in the airport but it must see that there is a market for a modern in-flight catering service, competitively supplied by Shannon Airport, which would attract more people. The airport has already shown its adaptability in that it has dealt with requests from different sects who require different kinds of foods. It was the first on the market with frozen food. It developed a full system for in-flight catering with hot food in particular and with modern technology it can go even further. I ask the Minister to encourage Aer Rianta to invest more fully in a new in-flight catering division in Shannon Airport. That would be an additional attraction for people to utilise Shannon Airport on an international stage and increase the amount of traffic at the terminal. I regret that these charges will be put in place without Shannon having the necessary infrastructural development required of an international airport.
The easy access to and departure from Shannon Airport and its user friendly status can be promoted to good effect in the future. I urge the Minister to examine my proposals.