I will focus on the salient points in our document. I thank the Chairman and members for inviting us to present to the committee today. I begin by conveying apologies from our CEO, Mr. Peter Kearney, who cannot be with us today. My colleague, Mr. Connors, who is acting director of the safety regulatory division, and I will be happy to take any questions from members.
For those members who are not familiar with the role of the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, essentially we have three key roles. First, we are the national aviation safety regulator and safety is the IAA's number one priority in all aspects of our business. Second, we are responsible for the oversight of security in the Irish aviation industry and we oversee security compliance and security standards for all aviation installations and facilities. Third, we provide air navigation services and air traffic management services in Irish airspace and at the State airports at Dublin, Cork and Shannon. We also manage aeronautical communications on the north Atlantic Ocean. We also provide the world's first global emergency aircraft location and emergency response tracking service, the Aireon ALERT service, based at our centre in Ballygirreen, County Clare.
The IAA employs just over 700 people at various locations around the country and, as with all aviation businesses, Covid-19 has hit us extremely hard. Our revenues are almost all directly related to aircraft volumes in Irish airspace. With the sudden and dramatic decline in aircraft volumes this year, we are keeping our business afloat through a combination of significant cost containment measures and utilising reserves that we built up in better times.
Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to provide our essential services in a safe and efficient manner, keeping Ireland's skies open for vital connectivity, including the delivery of medical and personal protective equipment, PPE. From a regulatory perspective, we have also provided appropriate alleviations to support the efficient and safe return to service of the industry.
As Mr. Cornelis said, the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the aviation industry across Europe. There is no way to sugar-coat this issue. To put it in perspective, we are now operating at air traffic levels that we would have seen in the late 1980s. In March and April, we were down to almost zero. That also affects business connectivity. Many routes are either not operating or are operating a skeletal service.
The aviation sector in Europe will record more than €140 billion in lost revenue in 2020, and the position is not looking much more encouraging for 2021. Most experts - I refer here to analysis done by EUROCONTROL - indicate that it will be 2024 or 2025 before the industry recovers.
From an Irish aviation perspective, we managed 38,000 flight movements in September of this year compared with almost 110,000 in September 2019. It is important to also highlight that throughout the pandemic air traffic levels in Ireland have been consistently below levels in the rest of the European network. That is deeply worrying from an economic perspective. Where the rest of Europe has rail and road connectivity, we are dependent on air connectivity as an island nation.
Prior to the pandemic, Ireland's aviation sector was the envy of the world. Europe's largest and most successful airline is based here and we are the largest global hub for aircraft leasing. We have one of Europe's top ten airports and an aviation safety regulatory regime that ranks in the top five globally. We also have responsibility for the important transatlantic flows in and out of Europe. For a nation of our size, this emphasises the importance of the industry to the economy but it also emphasises what we stand to lose at this time.
We all hope that an effective vaccine will be ready soon and, thankfully, there have been some positive stories in the media in recent days. In the absence of a vaccine, however, we have entered a period where it is recognised that, as a society and an economy, we need to learn to live with Covid-19. Living with the virus means we continue to do as many of the things we normally do as a society but, where appropriate, we adapt our behaviours and accept certain restrictions, weighing up the risks attached to the virus. What does that mean in an aviation and travel context? Quite simply, it means there is an effective and harmonised system of travel across Europe, applied equally by all member states, and that pre-departure testing is implemented as soon as possible. That is the ideal solution at this time from an aviation perspective. What these two mechanisms will achieve is straightforward. When making a booking passengers can be sure that the flight will take place and the rules will not change, while passengers and members of the public alike will be reassured that the virus is not circulating through air travel. In other words, if one returns a positive test one does not travel. That is living with the virus in action and it involves fair and simple rules with appropriate mitigation to combat the identified risks of transmitting the virus.
The IAA has worked with the Government and the safety regulators across Europe to implement the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control health safety protocols to which Mr. Cornelis referred. We continue to monitor the effectiveness of those protocols among Irish registered aircraft.
On the EU traffic light system for travel, we have welcomed the Government's intention to adopt the traffic light system agreed at the European Council last week. That is very positive and is a proactive step by Government. While we believe that the system is a key step in the right direction, we do not believe it has gone far enough nor, unfortunately, that it is likely to achieve on its own the levels of EU-wide co-ordination required to provide for a sustainable return for aviation.
The traffic light policy as designed at this time provides no certainty to passengers when making a booking. Member states can apply their own additional restrictions, particularly between orange and red or orange and orange countries, and are only required to provide 24 hours' notice. We should treat the situation dynamically. If air travel were a risk several months ago, we now have protocols, protections and mechanisms in place to allow air travel to operate safely. The EU-wide traffic light system is one of the key pieces of the jigsaw to allow for air travel to return. We need effective EU-wide co-ordination and harmonisation and the traffic light system in its current format does not provide for that.
This is where we believe testing will be an important piece of the jigsaw. It is the missing piece to allow for travel to recommence. In terms of testing at airports, an EU-wide system that replaces quarantine measures with airport pre-departure testing is required. Such a system could allow all passengers or, more appropriately, passengers travelling from a red or an orange country, to be tested on the day or one day in advance of travel. That type of testing strategy would be complemented by the traffic light information associated with each country so that in respect of passengers travelling from a green zone there should be no requirement for testing as, by definition, the incidence of Covid-19 in that country is low.
Those who are part of the aviation sector know there is no such thing as a perfect solution. That is the reason the industry is rooted in robust risk management and mitigation. In our view, testing assesses the risk and mitigates it. It stands to reason, therefore, that testing should form an important part of the overall jigsaw for air travel.
It is our view that the Government's policy should favour a consistent approach to testing across Europe to complement the traffic light system. We believe that a recovery for air travel is not possible without this policy in place. What we are talking about is that passengers would know the requirements based on the traffic light system. Passengers would be tested pre-flight. We would continue to apply the strict procedures on board and the onus would continue to be on passengers to behave responsibly with regard to Covid-19 management at their destination.
Various industry bodies, airlines and airports have called on governments to introduce Covid-19 testing, safely reopen borders and re-establish global connectivity. Governments across Europe are listening and there is now a trend towards recognising that testing will be part of a sustainable reopening. The benefits are clear. First, testing provides assurance around the risk of importing Covid-19 cases. Second, it supports economic activity and connectivity. Third, it would play a key role in taking the aviation industry and the thousands of jobs it supports off life support. We understand that there has been some work in this area between the Department of Transport, the airports and scientific experts. We are speaking from a policy perspective where, from our central role in aviation in Ireland, we can see that if an urgent step such as this one is not taken soon, many parts of the Irish aviation industry will not survive.
The airports representative body and an airline representative body have said that safely reopening borders without quarantine by using a co-ordinated approach to testing would boost the entire economy and offer a lifeline revenue to airlines and airports. We agree with that analysis. Like most aspects of the aviation sector, the true benefit in terms of reopening air travel will only emerge when all countries implement similar testing or recognise testing across Europe.
The traffic light system is a step in the right direction and we welcome the Government's intention to align with the rest of the EU. Pre-departure testing is required to ensure that each country is confident it is not importing Covid-19 cases. Many countries are moving in that direction. Ireland is reliant on aviation more than other European countries and we encourage the Government to take a lead role in this area. Let us not concede to the long-term closure of our borders. Travel can play an important role in restarting the economy post Covid-19. I thank members for their time.