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.