Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill, 1962: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Copies of the Convention relating to Co-operation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) have been circulated for the information of Senators.

The object of the Bill is to enable Ireland to continue to play a full part in maintaining, in co-operation with other States concerned, the safe, orderly and efficient flow of aircraft particularly the newer jet aircraft which fly not only at very great speeds but also at very great altitudes. Practical experience shows that it is only through common action by the States concerned that the economic utilisation of their upper airspace can be achieved.

Owing to the high speeds of jet aircraft flying above 20,000 to 25,000 feet, reliance cannot be placed on visual watch from the aircraft to avoid collisions. All such traffic must, therefore, be controlled from the ground. Jet aircraft move quickly from an area under one control centre to another and from one national boundary to another, sometimes in a matter of minutes and this places a considerable strain on the existing control systems organised on a national basis.

Concomitant with increases in the numbers and speed of aircraft there has been a significant growth in the volume and complexity of radio and electronic equipment designed to extend the reliability and use of aircraft in varying weather and other flying conditions. This expansion calls for the rationalisation of demands on available radio frequencies, and other communication media. Keeping control centres to the minimum demanded by technical considerations and the standardisation of equipment and procedures are necessary steps in avoiding any possibility of saturation in aviation communications media.

The problems arising from the increasing use of jet aircraft are accentuated in the airspace over the Western European countries because of the high density of traffic and following negotiations between them Western Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed at Brussels on the 13th December, 1960, the "Eurocontrol" International Convention relating to co-operation for the safety of air navigation. The Convention concerns upper airspace i.e. above 20,000 or 25,000 feet but a contracting State could ask that the control services of its lower airspace be entrusted to the Organisation to be set up under the Convention. Approach and aerodrome control would not, however, be taken over by the Organisation. Accordingly, if we join Eurocontrol, air traffic control for planes landing or taking off in this country and planes in transit over Ireland below the upper airspace would continue to be exercised by my Department. The staff of Eurocontrol will consist of qualified officers from the countries which are members, including Ireland.

The Convention has been ratified by the six signatory States and it came into operation on the 1st March, 1963. Membership of Eurocontrol differs from that of the Common Market in that Britain is a founder member while Italy is not yet a member. Italy's difficulties in becoming a founder member are believed to derive from the fact that its air traffic control service is administered by the military. Spain has applied for membership of Eurocontrol.

Air traffic for Eurocontrol purposes comprises civil aircraft movements and those military, customs and police aircraft movements which conform to the procedures of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In the case of air traffic which does not conform with those procedures Eurocontrol will ensure that there is proper co-ordination of their activities so as to attain the maximum degree of safety of operation in airspace.

The Organisation established by the Convention has two parts; a permanent Commission for the safety of air navigation, which is called the Commission, and the Air Traffic Service Agency, which is called the Agency. The Commission is the Governing Body. The Agency is the Executive Body run by a Committee composed of representatives of the States and a Director to be appointed for a term of five years. The planning staff at present operates from Paris but will be moving to the permanent headquarters of the Organisation in Brussels. Ireland has had an observer in attendance at the provisional planning meetings.

The work of the Organisation will include the establishment of Air Traffic Control Centres, the determination of the areas to be controlled by the centres, the equipping and staffing of the centres, the fixing of charges, the relationship of the Organisation with other Control Administrations and policy in relation to equipment. Decisions on Air Traffic Control Centres or treaties with other States must be unanimous, that is to say, each country has a veto. Directives about financial matters require a majority of votes weighted in accordance with the gross national products of the member States. Recommendations on common policy on navigational equipment require a majority vote of the members. Member States have discretion as to the implementation of these recommendations. The weighting of votes in the Commission, although related to gross national products, is not strictly proportional to those figures but is biased in favour of the smaller countries.

The financial arrangements of the Organisation provide for annual Estimates, allocated either to the operating budget or to the investment budget, to be approved by the Commission. Capital expenditure will be shared proportionate to gross national products of the contracting states. Operating costs for the first three years will be shared in the same proportion. Later that proportion will apply only to the net cost of services rendered to aircraft other than civil aircraft of contracting states. In the case of civil aircraft of contracting states net operating costs will be shared proportionate to user. Provision is made for the raising of charges directly against users.

It has been estimated that the contribution of Great Britain to Eurocontrol in the early years of operation will be almost one-third of the whole. France and West Germany will contribute a quarter each, Belgium and the Netherlands about a twentieth each and Luxembourg about £1 in every £400. The 1963 budget for Eurocontrol is estimated at £90,000, and Ireland's contribution would be about £700. The cost of the organisation next year may rise to £2 million of which our contribution would be £16,200 on the basis of gross national product. As against this expenditure, there would be savings in the costs of operation of navigational services in this country, as part of these would be borne by Eurocontrol, and eventually large savings in capital expenditure on the purchase of equipment.

Formal adherence to the Eurocontrol Convention will be dealt with in accordance with the procedure laid down in our Constitution. The purpose of enacting the present Bill is to ensure that the necessary legal status can be given to the Organisation to carry out its functions in the upper airspace on adherence of this country to the Convention. The upper airspace for this purpose is that above altitudes of 20,000 to 25,000 feet. The precise level will be decided by agreement in due course.

The Bill gives the Organisation corporate status so as to enable it to enter into contracts and other commercial relationship and to sue and be sued in the courts. The Bill also gives the Organisation the necessary authority to ensure that in its daily tasks of allocating airspace to aircraft so as to secure the safe and orderly flow of traffic its working would not be frustrated through the failure of some aircraft to follow instructions. Accordingly, it is proposed that aircraft flying in airspace over Ireland or Irish registered aircraft flying anywhere in Eurocontrol airspace will be guilty of an offence under Irish law if they fail to comply with authorisations to proceed issued by Eurocontrol.

Provision is made in the Bill to give diplomatic inviolability to Eurocontrol archives and to premises housing Eurocontrol installations and to exempt the organisation and its employees from specified taxes and customs requirements. This provision repeats that made in other countries and is the minimum necessary to provide the means of common action. Provision is made also to enable the necessary payments to be made to Eurocontrol. These fall into two classes. In the first place the State assumes responsibility for annual contributions to be assessed under the terms of the Convention. Recurring liabilities of this kind would be defrayed from Voted moneys and accordingly would come before the Dáil annually. It is possible also that the State might have to collect at least on an interim basis charges from users of Eurocontrol services and remit them in whole or in part to the organisation. Provision is made accordingly to enable regulations to be made for the collection and transmission of user charges to the organisation. In addition, power is taken to enable user charges to be collected by the State in respect of services provided by it. The purpose of this provision is to make express provision for the collection of these charges and, accordingly, to remove any possibility of legal doubts in the matter. The Bill makes provision also for the acquisition of land for transfer to Eurocontrol for the purpose of its activities. The main requirement for land, in so far as civil aviation is concerned, is for airport purposes and the amount of land required for radio aids and housing navigational facilities is insignificant. Right of entry on lands for the purpose of erecting radio buildings and aids can be negotiated usually without recourse to compulsion and accordingly the extra powers of acquisition involved in the proposals contained in the Bill are unimportant.

The Bill provides for the making of Ministerial Orders, to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, which appear to be necessary or expedient for carrying out the Convention. All important matters contained in the Convention are covered by the Bill and the purpose of the provision is to enable incidental and administrative requirements to be met from time to time. The Bill provides also for the making of regulations requiring owners and hirers of aircraft to keep records. The use of electrical and radio equipment in aircraft, in control centres and in ground aids to navigation has progressed to such an extent that the facts of any incident in the flight of an aircraft may be determinable only on the basis of the evidence supplied by the examination of this equipment or the recording apparatus incorporated in or associated with it. It is accordingly necessary to include items such as discs, films and tapes in the definition of the records for the purpose of the provision.

It is desirable to mention, however, in relation to the provisions in the Bill with respect to offences and the making of regulations that, in the ultimate, reliance cannot be placed on punitive measures for securing compliance with the requirements and procedures of Eurocontrol. The Organisation is founded on the practical necessities of the limitations of the available upper air space and the impossibility of the safe and efficient use of that space except on the basis of full co-operation and exchange of information between national administrations and between the Eurocontrol Agency and those engaged in the day to day operation of aircraft.

I should mention that Eurocontrol is a civilian organisation and that our adherence to the Convention does not involve the country in any way in military commitments, either explicit or implied.

I recommend the Bill strongly to the House.

This Bill, as we have been told, is brought before us to enable Ireland to carry out her obligations under the Convention signed in Brussels on 13th December, 1960, at the Eurocontrol International Conference. As the Minister explained to us, the object of the Convention is to further safeguard the airlines of the world, and in this case to deal with high-flying and fast-flying aircraft— planes that fly at 20,000 feet and 25,000 feet, and such great heights. We in Ireland are all very proud of the safety record of our existing airlines for such a long period of time. Long may that safety record last, we all pray.

It is apparent to anyone who has experience of flying—and nowadays that applies to a growing number of people—how complicated and dangerous air traffic has become everywhere. Therefore, improved and improving methods must be found to maintain the safety record that already exists, not only in this country but, it is fair to say, in the world in general. If we examine the comparatively low degree of disaster in the air, and compare it even with that on the roads in this and in every other country, or with any form of transport, we find that there is quite a remarkable safety record all over the world in the air, and Aer Lingus is at the top of the class in the safety sphere. It is not only with Aer Lingus that we should be concerned, but with safety in Ireland. Ireland's name, as a country, should be associated with air safety in all its shapes and forms.

The Minister told us that Eurocontrol was started by countries where there is the heaviest density of aircraft, and where aircraft converge from all parts of the world and control of navigation has become more and more difficult. It is obvious, as he also explained, that the fast-flying planes must be controlled from the ground, and must be controlled in the most efficient way possible. It is also obvious that if that control were left to individual countries, it would be good, bad or indifferent, according to the countries concerned, and their concern with safety. The right way to go about this problem is to get the nations concerned to come together and pool their resources and their equipment, and to have equal standards of efficiency at all points over which planes fly. That is the only way in which such an aim can be achieved. Therefore, I feel that we as a country are very wise to participate in this organisation.

Several points arise, but I shall not delay the House because the Minister explained the whole position very well in his opening statement. Views have been expressed as to whether, by joining this international organisation and subscribing to this Convention, we might involve ourselves in other commitments. The Minister has clearly and specifically stated that no military commitments will arise out of this Convention and the Bill with which we are dealing today.

I see that the Minister says traffic at Dublin Airport will not be affected because all our planes fly under 25,000 feet and traffic coming into and going out of Dublin Airport is under that level. I am not sure whether the same applies to Shannon Airport in relation to the planes which come into Shannon and land at the port.

This is an international service. The setting up of stations and equipment here will be welcome not only for what they will do for aircraft but because they will be very good for our own personnel, technicians and the people concerned with the air industry. They will be associated with this international organisation and be part of the staff working for it. In that way we will not only participate in this international operation but it is bound to be very good for our own people and technicians. It will keep them in the closest touch with what is happening in aviation generally and so, in an international co-operative way, they will be enabled to find out and know what is happening generally, and what are the latest safety methods.

The only other point is that one is inclined to ask are our financial obligations under this Convention very great. It would seem from what the Minister has told us that our share this year will be small, only £700. Next year, when it is envisaged that more money will be needed, I do not think that £16,200 is a sum we should shy at in view of the other benefits which we will get. From our participation and, indeed, from the use of the equipment and a saving in capital investment, it will be very well worthwhile. I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill.

I, too, should like to join in welcoming this Bill. Apart from any other considerations we may have as a comparatively small partner in the brotherhood of the flying lanes which now cover every country in the world, we have an obvious duty, not only to ourselves but to the whole of mankind, and to everyone who is even remotely interested in or connected with the flying of aircraft in any part of the world. We would be lacking in our duty to ourselves and to our fellow nations if we did not take our rightful place inside a system of this kind.

Anyone who has had any experience of flying, and particularly of flying in the faster type of aircraft for which the introduction of this system of Eurocontrol is intended, does not have to be a technician—I am not; I have had experience of flying but I do not need convincing—to know that no individual national system of navigation is any longer adequate to cater for the type of traffic we have got to get used to. These are obviously international problems which will require control on an international scale. We have a duty which we cannot shirk or ignore, and I think the Department are taking the right and proper steps in placing the country within this system. Certainly, for that reason, if for no other reason, this Bill will be welcomed by all sides of the House.

I thank the House for their friendly reception of this Bill. As Senator McGuire has said, we have to do everything possible to ensure air safety and I am glad he paid a tribute to Aer Lingus and Aerlínte in that regard. In fact, the death per million passenger miles all over the world decreased last year in spite of the appallingly tragic accidents that are reported from time to time in the newspapers. This measure is designed further to increase safety measures and to ensure the safe passage of aircraft in areas where the number flying is very considerable.

In speaking of the record of Aer Lingus, I always like to pay a tribute to those who are frequently forgotten because they are the people with whom there is no romantic connection, namely, the maintenance men in Aer Lingus who maintain the planes, who take them to pieces at stated intervals and examine all the parts. Their devotion to duty contributes very largely, along with that of the pilots and the general executive officers of Aer Lingus, to this splendid record which we hope will continue. The maintenance men are all too frequently forgotten. Everybody thinks of the pilots flying in the air whereas maintenance control is of very great importance.

As Senator McGuire has said, the financial obligation incurred through participation in Eurocontrol will be offset by participation in the use of their equipment and by other forms of saving. I should say the cost of air traffic control of all kinds is absolutely enormous and I am thinking particularly of the cost of a form of new long distance precision radar which we are now establishing at Dublin Airport in order to conform with the regulations in the International Civil Aircraft Organisation and to keep up our standards. We are paying anything up to £150,000 for this piece of equipment which is designed to scan and see aeroplanes at a distance of anything from 100 to 200 miles. Therefore, the cost of air traffic control in general is a very heavy commitment on the Vote each year but it is essential and we do our best to collect as much as we can in the form of landing fees and other charges for aircraft to meet the inevitable deficit which arises in this and other countries. I thank the House for their co-operation in relation to this measure.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

The Seanad is now adjourned until 4 p.m. on Friday, 28th of this month. The House will meet thereafter on Wednesday, 3rd July, 1963.

The Seanad adjourned at 5 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Friday, 28th June, 1963.