I thank committee members for inviting us. I am delighted to appear before the committee to speak about the proposed EU traffic light model for international travel, airport testing and aviation supports and to answer any questions committee members may have. The Minister has highlighted the vital role that our aviation industry has played, and will continue to play, throughout this pandemic and beyond.
I thank everyone involved for their hard work. The Government is committed to assisting the aviation sector in any way it can to ensure it can return to normal operations as soon as possible and maintain our global connectivity.
I refer to the range of Government supports that have been made available to the aviation industry. These include the horizontal Government supports available to all citizens and businesses, including grants, low-cost loans, the waiver of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. Many who are employed in the sector have been able to avail of the Covid-19 wage subsidy schemes and, where necessary, the Covid-19 unemployment payment. Larger aviation companies may qualify for liquidity support under the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, pandemic stabilisation and recovery fund.
Legislation has been introduced to allow for a State guarantee for refund credit notes to consumers of Irish licensed travel agents and tour operators for cancelled bookings, ensuring the monetary value is secured until such time as it is used in the future. These supports notwithstanding, it is acknowledged that our airlines and aviation stakeholders have had to make difficult decisions to best ensure their long-term commercial viability. Departmental officials and I continue to engage with industry representatives concerning their needs and supports over the coming weeks and months of this pandemic.
I now turn to the proposed European approach for Covid-19 restrictions and international travel. This proposal has a number of elements. It involves harmonised data and country coding under a traffic light model based on available EpiData, which will be mapped by the European Centre of Disease Control, ECDC. This is an aspect of the proposal on which member states can easily agree. Other aspects of the proposal are more challenging, particularly discussions on testing and quarantine restrictions, which fall to the public health authorities' competence and responsibility in each member state.
The aviation industry has stated that in order for the proposed traffic light model to be viable, testing has to be part of the solution as an alternative to 14-day isolation, and measures should only be contemplated for higher-risk locations. It has been made clear by industry that the achievement of this proposed model will determine future decisions made by industry. The European proposal is the subject of intense discussion but it is expected to progress to a decision at the General Affairs Council on 13 October. In the meantime, member states are endeavouring to find a compromise in the challenging areas of testing and restriction regimes.
With regard to airport testing, members will be aware that a number of European countries are currently offering the option of testing of arriving passengers either at predeparture or on arrival, usually polymerase chain reaction testing, PCR, as an alternative to restrictions. The DAA recently presented its research into options for Covid-19 testing at its facilities at Dublin and Cork to me. Such a proposed testing service could also be extended to other locations.
The preference for airport testing involves testing that is quick, cheap, available, and meets the public health threshold for accuracy, specificity and sensitivity. The aviation industry is proposing antigen as a preferred option for travel testing. This is understandable given the relatively cheaper price and quicker turnaround time. Antigen-based testing, however, is not considered by the World Health Organization, WHO, to be suitable for an international travel testing context. The DAA has carried out research into other types of testing but their application is not yet fully validated.
It is clear from my discussions with industry that consideration of testing and the traffic light system will determine the future direction of international travel. My Department will continue to lend support to the aviation sector through this difficult period by working steadfastly with stakeholders on these important issues. I am happy to answer any further questions members may have.