I am joined by officials, Ms Andrea Lennon and Ms Nicola Hayes. I thank the committee for the opportunity to come back to speak further about the impact of Covid-19 on Irish aviation. I know the committee has dedicated a lot of its time and energy in the past month to raise and examine the key issues for aviation, with a focus on what needs to be done. I am very glad to receive its further conclusions and recommendations from this work.
I have no doubt we all share a desire to reach a point where international air travel can resume and where the industry can begin to plan and build towards a stable and sustainable recovery. We all agree that aviation is an important sector because of the significant number of jobs involved but it is also a critical enabler of the rest of the economy, and we will need it back to help us recover any lost ground from the past eight or nine months.
There is no question that the impact on the aviation industry, on the travel industry and on the domestic tourism industry in Ireland and across Europe and the world for that matter has been catastrophic and unprecedented. I know the committee has heard from the airlines, the airports and those who contributed to the aviation task force, as well as the European Commission and many others. I am sure this will have given the committee a good sense of the myriad problems and the scale of the challenges.
I have also engaged regularly with all of these key stakeholders since my appointment in the summer. We all want the same thing. We want to have fewer restrictions on international travel, safe travel, and notwithstanding the very serious upturn on Covid-19 cases across Europe in recent weeks, we need to be preparing the ground now for when that improves and for a time when it makes sense to have people moving around more freely again.
I am very concerned about the loss of strategic connectivity. The suspension of services at Shannon and Cork during November is in direct response to a collapse in forward bookings on the routes concerned, primarily due to ongoing uncertainty concerning the spread of Covid-19 across Europe and the necessary restrictions being imposed in several jurisdictions. In that respect it is understandable, even if very regrettable, that the airlines, operating on a commercial basis, have to judge how best to manage service provision and reduce costs. The coronavirus has led to a sharp reduction in air travel, not just in Ireland but across Europe and globally.
Since I spoke with members in early October, the Government has agreed to develop a framework around the EU traffic light system, which was adopted at EU level on 13 October. As a start, changes for green regions have already been made, which means that people arriving into Ireland from EU green regions do not have to restrict their movement for 14 days. All other passengers must continue to restrict their movements for 14 days unless they are exempted essential workers. The Government will also align with the updated list of exempted categories of traveller with essential function or need within the EU recommendation.
The Government has also agreed that from midnight on 8 November, the requirement for those arriving from orange locations to restrict their movements can be waived if they have a negative Covid-19 PCR test result up to three days before arrival. The current requirement to restrict movement for 14 days following arrival from a red region remains but the Government agrees that, as soon as practicable, this can be waived following a negative result from an approved PCR Covid-19 test taken five days after arrival, with travellers restricting movements until then. Children under 6 are to be exempt from testing requirements. All arrivals must abide by provisions of the living with Covid plan, currently at level 5.
A senior cross-departmental technical working group will report to the Government on 10 November with a plan to establish approved Covid-19 tests for international arrivals, taking into consideration testing options, standards, and operational implementation. Any such tests should not interfere with HSE testing capacity.
The Government has already made a significant level of Exchequer support available for the aviation sector. Many companies continue to benefit from the economy-wide support measures that the Government put in place right from the very beginning of the pandemic. Airlines and airports are availing of wage subsidies, waivers of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities.
In budget 2021, the Government made provision for €10 million for Cork and Shannon airports while confirming a commitment of €21 million to the continuation of the regional airports programme to support Knock, Kerry and Donegal airports. In the context of the forthcoming national economic plan, the Government will consider further measures to support the industry to ensure that the core capability of the industry is preserved so that it can recover quickly to support the wider economic recovery when circumstances allow.
I know there is frustration at industry level felt by workers and management and a perception among the airlines and airports that more needs to be done to help them. I agree that more can be done and more is being done. I am happy to engage on that with this committee and see if we can find common ground on a way forward.