Covid-19: Impact on Aviation (resumed)

I welcome our witnesses. From committee room 2, I welcome Mr. Eddie Wilson, CEO and Mr. Darrell Hughes, people director, from Ryanair. I can now see committee room 2 and I can see two people there, so I take it they are our witnesses and I thank them very much for joining us. From Aer Lingus headquarters, which is in Dublin Airport, I welcome Mr. Sean Doyle, CEO, and Mr. Donal Moriarty, chief corporate affairs officer.

For those in attendance at committee room 2, I wish to advise that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity, by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. For those attending remotely from Dublin Airport, witnesses giving evidence from a location outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that the constitutional protections afforded to witnesses attending to give evidence before committees may not extend to them. No clear guidance can be given on whether the extent to which the evidence given is covered by absolute privilege of a statutory nature as this has not yet been tested before the courts. Hopefully, today's proceedings will not give rise to that test.

I ask Mr. Doyle to make his opening statement and to confine it to five minutes or less so that we will have time for questions and answers.

Mr. Sean Doyle

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the Special Committee on the Covid-19 Response.

Let me cut to the chase. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about the greatest crisis that the global aviation industry has ever experienced. This crisis is much more severe than those experienced at the time of 9/11 in 2001 and the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008. To highlight this I will outline a few statistics from the International Air Transport Association, IATA. The losses in the global industry this year will be the biggest in aviation history, estimated at over $84 billion in 2020 and $16 billion in 2021. By comparison, airlines lost $31 billion with the global financial crisis and the oil price spike in 2008 and 2009. There is no comparison for the dimension of this crisis. IATA research indicates that fewer passengers are saying that they will travel again in the first months after the pandemic. In early April, 61% said that they would travel. By early June, that had fallen to 45%. Approximately two thirds of people surveyed are seeing less travel in their future, be it for vacations, visiting friends and relatives or business. Deloitte, in the context of consumer sentiment in Ireland, puts consumer confidence in air travel as low as 19% and industry commentators are predicting that capacity will not revert to 2019 levels until 2022 at the earliest.

There is not a clear understanding in Ireland about the scale of the crisis or, indeed, its significance for the economy and its prospects for future recovery. The task force for aviation recovery published its final report on 10 July and very succinctly captured the importance of the aviation sector in Ireland. It referenced some key numbers from Oxford Economics which are worth reiterating. The estimated GDP contribution of air transport to Ireland is €8.9 billion. A total of 140,000 jobs are supported by the aviation sector in Ireland. Some €8.7 billion is the estimated GDP contribution of foreign tourists and in the region of 8.8 million people visit Ireland every year by air.

The report of the task force highlights the critical importance of aviation to the economy and states that it was a strategic foundation for Ireland's open, small economy. International connectivity is a key driver of that economy and in recent years that connectivity to Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia has significantly increased. The level of international connectivity that Ireland enjoyed prior to the crisis was looked upon with envy in many other countries and markets. That connectivity is not about serving local Irish demand to go on holiday overseas. This only represents part of it. The connectivity to which I refer connects Ireland with other markets and economies, allows business to be done internationally and allows foreign direct investment into Ireland, which is a critical driver of the economy. Connectivity is critical for regional development. Key businesses and services sectors such as technology, software, pharmaceutical, medical, finance, food and beverage depend on that connectivity, and small and medium enterprises across the country depend on the inbound tourists brought to the country by means of aviation.

There is a lack of understanding of Ireland's leadership position from a global aviation perspective. It is not just about the airlines and airports. The global leasing market for aircraft had its origins in Ireland and Ireland controls over 60% of that market. Ireland also punches above its weight in aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul. The aviation sector is of systemic importance to the economy. It is, therefore, of strategic national importance that the sector be protected to survive this unprecedented crisis and be in a position to contribute to Ireland’s economic recovery.

I urge the committee to review the final report of the task force for aviation recovery. It contains a number of key recommendations on rebuilding regional and international connectivity. The report states that the Government should: provide a rebate directly to the airlines in respect of all Dublin Airport charges and navigation charges as paid by the airlines; a stimulus package should be put in place concurrently for each of Cork, Shannon, Ireland West, Kerry and Donegal airports; the current waiver for 80-20 slot use-it or lose-it should be extended to the winter of 2021 season; the Government should adopt the interim recommendations from the tourism task force; and we should ensure that the delivery of planned airport infrastructure programmes is carried out in full and on time.

The report also contains a number of key recommendations on saving jobs and supporting Irish business. It states that the Government should enable a liquidity initiative for the aviation sector to help companies that make a material contribution to the economy and that it should ensure that a sizeable amount of funding is drawn down for the Irish aviation sector from the Next Generation EU funding of €750 billion. Unfortunately, those recommendations have not yet been progressed or implemented.

The green list published on 21 July is more restrictive than is the case in any other European country. Ireland now stands alone in applying the policy. The rest of Europe has opened for travel. The criteria used is even more restrictive than that used for passengers from third countries entering the EU. Ireland has not acted upon the European Commission’s request to member states to lift border restrictions within the EU by 15 June. The green list published this week effectively means that Ireland is closed for business and that will have profoundly negative impacts on the Irish economy and on the aviation and tourism sectors jobs within them.

I started by stating that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about the greatest crisis that the global aviation industry has ever experienced. The situation in the Irish sector is even worse than is being experienced by our international peers. We are in the unfortunate position of, first, having the most restrictive travel policies in Europe and, second, having so far done the least in Europe to support the aviation sector. These issues will need to be urgently addressed given the strategic importance of aviation to Ireland’s economic recovery. We are hopeful that the scale and depth of the crisis will soon be understood in Ireland and that the relevant actions required to address the crisis will be taken. Aer Lingus will continue to engage with the relevant stakeholders for this purpose.

I ask Mr. Wilson to make his opening statement but to confine it to five minutes in order to allow time for questions and answers.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I am delighted to be here to assist the committee in its work. We have already given a detailed written submission but I will draw the committee's attention to some of the key points.

Ryanair, as part of the aviation sector, is uniquely placed. Our business is risk assessment, passenger confidence and safety.

When we talk about the balance between public health initiatives and returning to a functioning economy, those in the aviation business are well placed for that. We work in an industry that is probably more regulated than the medical industry. I would also say that Ryanair, given that it is the largest airline in Europe - and in the world for international passengers - is uniquely placed within the sector because of its daily interactions with the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, and the various governments throughout Europe. We will be able to give some insight into that.

I echo what the witness from Aer Lingus said. I do not propose to repeat everything he said except to state that the industry is in crisis, and in this country in particular. If we look at the number of jobs that are potentially on the line, there are 40,000 jobs directly in aviation, 100,000 spin-off jobs and more than 335,000 jobs in tourism that are potentially affected. If we look at what has happened in Ireland with the outbreak of this pandemic, the Government handled it well at the start in terms of lockdown, the way it resourced it and its speed of reaction. However, the way it has been opened up afterwards in terms of how we strike a balance between public health initiatives in stopping the spread of this disease and having a functioning economy has been a disaster, frankly, for aviation.

This is not just about aviation. As the witness from Aer Lingus said, this is not just about holidays. We are heading into the shoulder season. We depend on business traffic. There will be 50% less traffic, certainly from this airline, and I imagine the figure is similar for Aer Lingus, and we are on the periphery of Europe. This country needs a functioning aviation sector. It is the oil in the engine of the economy and if we push it out, we will reap what will come from that in terms of structural damage to this economy and unemployment will closely follow that.

If we consider what happened in Ireland after the initial handling of the pandemic, the green list has been a total disaster. The idea that we would be looking at connectivity to Gibraltar and Monaco has been held up to ridicule. In terms of the way the Government has complied with its own guidelines, we need to get a handle on this. In terms of the recommendations we put in, we should have the EU 27 and the UK back on the green list. It is about the way we manage this going forward. We are easily able to handle the risk assessments and the safety concerns. If we look at what has happened in the rest of Europe, those countries are now open. They have complied with the recommendations of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The committee members should watch yesterday's World Health Organization press conference at which Dr. Michael Ryan said that closing borders is not the way to do it. We have got to get the balance right. We have got the balance wrong on this so far.

In terms of what will happen, IATA says that we will not recover to 2019 levels in terms of traffic throughout the world until 2023 and 2024. The amount of traffic in Europe in particular will shrink, and that will not just bounce back. Airlines will make their decisions but, in terms of what will happen, we will lose this traffic forever and end up going back to where we were previously in this country, with no ease of connectivity. The recommendation we make today is that we get the UK and the EU 27 countries on the green list and put in place incentives because the rest of Europe is working ahead on this. They are investing in their economies now. The rich economies - the Germans, the French and the Dutch - are putting money into their economies. We are going to get left behind.

I hope I can deal with many of the questions the members wish to ask.

I thank Mr. Wilson. I will open the floor to Deputies. The first speaker is Deputy Devlin from Fianna Fáil.

I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their opening remarks. I note from their opening statements that passenger numbers are almost 99% lower than 2019 levels, which is extremely worrying.

As an island nation we are all acutely aware that connectivity is essential. I acknowledge this pandemic has been exceptionally difficult for the airline industry. Covid-19 will have implications well past the summer. Unfortunately, as the committee heard earlier from the DAA, job losses will be inevitable in Dublin airport in particular. It employs 21,500 people and supports 100,000 other jobs. The air transport sector is estimated to support €8.9 billion of GDP and many jobs in Ireland.

I thank the airlines, their crews and pilots for their work in the initial phase of the pandemic in securing essential medical supplies and bringing them to Ireland. That was much appreciated by the public. I hope they will pass on the committee's thanks and best wishes to the staff involved.

My first question is to Mr. Wilson from Ryanair. Does he think his airline's campaign of encouraging people to travel to countries on the green list undermines the advice being given by the Government and public health advisers in this jurisdiction about avoiding non-essential travel?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

As an airline we are complying with all the EU regulations. Everyone else in Europe is flying. The balance has been struck between public health and returning to a functioning economy. A functioning economy means that people will have to travel, and do so for business purposes as well as visiting friends and relatives, putting children in college and holidays. We are operating in exactly the same way as every other airline in Europe. The outlier here is Ireland. Ireland, for some bizarre reason, has ignored what the other EU 26 has done, namely to return to air travel, unrestricted within the EU, since 1 June. That is all we are doing. We are carrying on our business in that manner. It is the muddled response of the Government, with green lists and people on it, and not on it, which is causing the confusion.

On public health advice, do not listen to me, but to Dr. Ryan of the World Health Organization, who says it is about how States handle infection at home, that they should stop looking abroad and for other scapegoats. People are sensible in how they comply when they get to the countries to which they are travelling. The idea that the Irish Government has excluded Germany is laughable. The Germans are the gold standard for how they handled the pandemic right from the start. Dr. Ryan singled them out at a press conference yesterday for what they have done on track and trace, for localised lockdowns and for volumes of testing, yet somehow we in Ireland have some sort of magical formula about which the Germans and the rest of Europe are unaware. The rest of Europe is moving. There are spikes and there will be spikes here too, and we will have to manage that, but shutting down the economy will bring us back, if not to the 1980s to the 1950s when we tried that experiment before by trying to do things on our own. It will not work. People need to understand that it is not about holidays, it is about connectivity. Holidays are an important element of our business but that is now done for the summer, we are heading into the winter. Traffic, not only in Ireland but from a European perspective, will halve. This committee should be asking how we will attract the remaining traffic back into Ireland because if we do not we will lose it, and lose it forever. What will happen is that next year, the 335,000 in the tourist industry will not have work because there will be nobody flying here. We have to get back to normal and balance the health concerns. The Government advice is disproportionate and will do structural damage to the economy.

I thank Mr. Wilson for his response but I beg to differ. According to figures from the European Centre for Disease control, some of the EU countries which Mr. Wilson says should be on the list have incidence rates that are ten times higher.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

In the case of Germany, the death rate from Covid-19 is 70% less than in Ireland and it is acknowledged as the European leader in this. The Deputy can bang around about numbers and the R number, but the World Health Organization says that infections will move all the time, the numbers will go up and down.

There is no point in having this self-congratulatory narrative that we will somehow or other eradicate this completely. The medical evidence says that we will live with it for many years and the way to do that is to manage it within our own countries through track and trace and testing. The idea that it is all "over there" and that if we close the borders it will not be all over here is not the way to go. For an island economy to do that will inflict structural damage that will be reaped in the next six months and continue for years. We are the oil of the engine of this economy.

It is interesting that Mr. Wilson highlighted Germany. I note that the incidence of Covid is 50% higher there than in Ireland.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

What does the Deputy mean by "Covid is 50% higher"? Will he be more specific, please?

It is 100,000 in Ireland, where there are 5.2 cases. I accept Mr. Wilson's bona fides as to why he wants all countries on some sort of green list and I understand the need for this. He must also understand that, from a public health and policy perspective, we must try to slow the spread of Covid. No one is suggesting that we can prevent it from coming inside our borders entirely. I accept that the airlines are under immense pressure. As I said earlier, I thank them and their pilots and crew for their work in the initial phase. That work was essential in the context of bringing PPE to Ireland. The biggest issue now is how we live with Covid. I imagine that the green list will change.

I wish to ask representatives from both airlines how they perceive the airports in Ireland compared with those they are dealing with in other countries now. I ask Aer Lingus to respond first.

Mr. Sean Doyle

Dublin Airport and the other airports in Ireland have adopted the EASA protocol on the advice of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. That is welcome and it is reassuring for passengers who are flying in and out of the airports that we are compliant and that it is safe to travel. It is worth noting about aviation industry in general and how we approach mitigating risk that we have a great track record of doing this. We have faced crises before in the aviation industry. We use data, mitigations and an onion-layer approach to dealing with risks such as Covid. The industry, and the airports within it, are responding quickly and effectively. We have had our mitigations in place since May. The industry has moved quickly to reassure people about the safety of flight. Other stakeholders should understand the urgency of restoring flight safely and move at that pace. I welcome the initiatives that the airports have put in place.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The big difference is that the airports in Ireland are empty and that they are gradually recovering in the rest of Europe. China has recovered to almost 70% now. We have put in place all the protocols from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control through EASA. We need to get back to reconnecting this island. If we do not connect, we will wither.

Returning to airline safety, my biggest concern is Ryanair's email campaign to previous customers telling them that they have the green light, which is encouraging people to travel. This flies in the face of public health advice in Ireland. Obviously, essential travel is different, but it seems that Ryanair is encouraging people who are looking at non-essential travel to do that.

All members have received queries about refunds. We probably do not have time to get into that matter today. That has certainly been an issue for people who had bookings with Ryanair and who need to get those refunds.

I now call Deputy O'Rourke from Sinn Féin. The Deputy has five minutes.

I will pick up on that point. I thank Mr. Doyle and Mr. Wilson for their presentations. Could they outline the number of refunds that have been issued to date, the number of refunds that have yet to be issued, the number of vouchers issued and the number yet to be issued? Could they provide assurances to customers who are still waiting that they will receive those vouchers? The Irish Travel Agents Association estimates that consumer losses are at €800,000 per day. This represents seats that were bought but not used and not refunded. Have the witnesses produced an estimate of this themselves or do they agree with that figure? Has there been any change to rescheduling fees? Very many people are reporting exorbitant charges for rescheduling?

Mr. Sean Doyle

I will go first. To date, we have processed over 345,000 vouchers and refunds. This is approximately 17% of the requests we have received. It is an unprecedented backlog because of the scale of cancellations we have had to enact and we are working as hard as we can investing both resource and technology to clear that backlog. I can reassure anybody entitled to a refund that he or she will get it. In terms of the other flexibility we are offering, we are offering anybody with a booking up until the end of December the ability to change that booking to a new flight, time or date without a change fee. That policy is very clear. Anybody with a booking to a destination where a travel advisory is in place can apply for a voucher for the full amount up until the end of August. We have offered unprecedented levels of flexibility to customers who have been affected by the pandemic.

Mr. Doyle made a comment with regard to refunds. Can he give the same assurance to people who are waiting for vouchers that they will receive them?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We are processing vouchers at the same pace. We will issue vouchers to those entitled to them.

Could Mr. Wilson answer my question?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

If the Deputy looks at the scale of this, for example, if he looks at April, one of the three months involved, we would have a budget for 14 million passengers to fly that month. We ended up flying 40,000. If one multiplies those three months and divides down the amount of people on different bookings, one comes up with in excess of 20 million passengers or individual refunds to deal with. Of course, there will be difficulties with that in terms of backlogs. We are not unique in that. The good news is that all our people have been back to work since 1 June. We have hired extra people in call centres to deal with this. We have processed in excess of €750 million. Some 90% of the people who are in the cash refund queue will be processed by the end of this month, which is in two days' time. There will be an ongoing process whereby people who have vouchers, change their minds and do not want to use them can simply go on the website or our chatbot and change them into cash. That amount is sitting there in terms of a liability for Ryanair and it is a question of the customers who want cash, vouchers or flight changes. They are being facilitated. Sometimes the volume of what we are dealing with is huge. Our people are doing a fantastic job-----

Can I ask about rescheduling fees as applied during the Covid-19 period? Is there a change in policy compared to previous times?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Under EU Regulation 261/2004, if someone's flight is cancelled, he or she gets the option of a flight change or a refund. We put in some extra flexibility during bookings made in July, August and September and people could change those up until the end of the year if they wished without a flight change fee.

I thank Mr. Doyle and Mr. Wilson for their responses. I encourage full engagement with customers because I know there is a lot of frustration in respect of those issues. I take the point about Ireland being an outlier but I have a list of 44 countries in Europe in front of me and no two have the same approach to checks and controls at airports. There are restrictions and a wide range of variation in terms of testing, tracing and quarantine.

Is there a specific country whose model the witnesses believe Ireland should be following? Is there an exemplar? A one-word answer will do.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

There are no restrictions between European countries. Germany is probably the leader in terms of how it has applied its public health policy throughout this. It seems to be the best innovator in that regard.

Does Mr. Doyle agree with the idea of Germany as a model?

Mr. Sean Doyle

I agree with Ryanair's comments on Germany, which has been open for travel since 19 June. It has been a role model at every stage of this crisis.

I read an article in The Guardian at 11.45 a.m. which states that the head of the disease control agency in Germany is worried by that countries 550 plus new cases every day. This is up from an average of 350 in early June. The head of the agency is quoted as saying "We must prevent that the virus once again spreads rapidly and uncontrollably." He also stated that "The new developments in Germany make me very worried" and "The rise has to do with the fact that we have become negligent". Do the witnesses agree that all our actions in Ireland have been based on public health advice, notwithstanding our acknowledgement and clear understanding of the impact of this, particularly on the witnesses' business, on travel and on air travel in particular? Would they change their view now following this statement from Germany?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

It is about striking a balance. The balance must be between how we have a functioning economy and how we address the health concerns and stop the spread of this disease. They are not mutually exclusive. They have to come together, otherwise we will not have a functioning economy. A small open economy like ours will have to connect with other countries. Germany is doing exactly what the World Health Organization said countries should do, namely, call out when they have clusters and deal with them. Germany has dealt with the same difficulties we have had in this country in slaughterhouses and meat plants, although not necessarily to the extent we have had with regard to care homes. There will be clusters but it is about how one responds to that. One cannot take a blanket approach that says that we are different in Ireland. I come back to this. We keep saying we are different. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which is the official arm of the EU in the context of the spread of pandemics, has the same standing as the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work and the European Environment Agency but for some reason, this country says that is not good enough for us. It is good enough for the other EU 26, which have land borders with one another, so the Deputy's comment about Germany bears no relevance to the argument he is making.

I think Mr. Wilson is quite wrong. I disagree with him because what it really shows is that this disease is accelerating in the northern hemisphere. The World Health Organization commented upon that yesterday. More than 650,000 people around the world have died and 16.5 million people have been infected. I think the approach taken by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Doyle is wrong. The Government clearly acknowledges the importance of the aviation industry. The CEO of Aer Lingus was particularly wrong when he stated that "There is not a clear understanding of the scale of the crisis or indeed its significance for the Irish economy and its future recovery." That is balderdash, Mr. Aer Lingus. We are very much concerned about it. In fact, the whole country is concerned about it but, in his commentary, Mr. Doyle does not seem to be concerned. Nowhere in the Aer Lingus submission can I find any mattes relating to health. This is about public health. It is about keeping people safe. It is about protecting families and businesses obviously but it is about reaching an acknowledgement. The airlines are challenging the best medical and public health advice in this country, which they have every right to do, advice that has proved to be fantastic in terms of saving lives. I think the airlines' approach is wrong. I would like to support them when they talk about the additional support they need from Government.

If, however, the airlines do not acknowledge the importance of our public health advice and the way we are fighting this disease, they are not being realistic.

Mr. Sean Doyle

We implemented every single guideline and public health policy urgently and effectively across our airline and across our operation. The act of travelling is very safe, as has been supported by evidence from the International Air Transport Association, IATA, and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, EASA. I am highlighting how much of an outlier Ireland is compared with other European Union states. That is significantly disadvantaging Irish airlines. Highlighting that point provokes a very healthy debate. Legislators should consider that debate and balance the needs of the economy and the importance of restoring air travel against the very important needs of public health. We are not being one-dimensional. We are providing a very healthy comparison with countries that are managing containment and opening up air travel. These countries understand the need to balance the economy against the need to maintain public health and to contain the virus. The position the Deputy has outlined is not one we have taken. We have been very balanced in our approach and in our comments.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I wish to add to that. With respect, I do not doubt the Deputy's concern but he seems to be taking a binary approach. We are dealing with these issues every day, which is why we are equipped to deal with the assessment of risk. It is not black and white. It will be very grey. All we are saying is that a balance must be struck. Other countries have done that. Dr. Michael Ryan of the World Health Organization said this morning that international travel bans are not a sustainable strategy. Economies have to open up, people have to work and trade has to resume. It was not Ryanair that said this but Dr. Ryan of the World Health Organization, WHO. The WHO believes it is possible to identify and minimise the risk associated with international travel and we support that view. We are going to have to move.

With respect, nobody is playing fast and loose. Like Aer Lingus and every other airline, we have people working at check-in desks and dealing with the public. Their health also has to be protected. We would not have a business without passenger confidence. Our biggest fear as a business is a second surge. We are not disconnected from this. If we do not have confidence, we do not have passengers. This is not the agenda of Ryanair, Aer Lingus or the aviation industry generally; for once this agenda actually lines up with the needs of the economy. If we do not have a functioning aviation industry, the effect on jobs will be disproportionate to that of the initiatives regarding the spread of the disease. We will have to learn to live with those concerns. That is what we are saying. With respect, we are not saying we do not care about that.

Yesterday or the day before, the UK ceased aviation activity between Spain and itself. That cessation has been now expanded to include the Canary Islands and other islands. The Government in the UK had to act in that way, as does our Government. It is not that we want to do this but that we believe we have no choice. The problem is that travel increases risk. The more one travels, the more likely one is to be exposed to people who may have the virus. If the pandemic is accelerating in the northern hemisphere and worldwide, the Government is duty-bound to protect public health. I acknowledge the issues the representatives have raised with regard to jobs, employment and economic stability but I reject utterly Aer Lingus's statement that the Government does not understand the scale or significance of the crisis. If it wants us to accept its views as reasonable, it cannot expect comments such as these to be given any credibility when put before us as fact. It is obviously untrue.

Do the witnesses want to speak on Deputy O'Dowd's point regarding the UK Government's actions?

Mr. Sean Doyle

I would like to respond to the comment regarding the Government not getting the scale of the crisis. The point I made in my opening statement is that, in reality, we have the most restrictive travel policy in Europe and that this has a more significant impact on Aer Lingus and Ryanair than on other European airlines.

We also have not enacted supports for aviation comparable with those in other European countries. That was outlined by the aviation task force. That is the reality. I will judge the Government on its actions, and that is the reality of its actions to date.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

With regard to Spain, what is happening in Catalonia will happen in other countries and has happened previously. It now has an issue with care homes and there was a report in the Financial Times the other day about undocumented workers coming to the area. The virus is also present in meat plants in the area. We will have a spike like that here. The Minister for Health himself, who I believe is on this committee, said last week that nine out of ten cases are not attributed to international travel. International travel is not a bogeyman and we really have to look at ourselves and ask what we are doing differently and what risks we are taking with regard to long-term structural damage.

Mr. Wilson keeps saying we are out of line with the rest of Europe. Does anybody know what is happening in Albania? It had an isolationist, inward-looking regime for a long time. Do either of the witnesses know what is it doing?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We do not fly to Albania so we do not monitor events there.

I thank our witnesses. I am not going to get into the debate as to which non-scientist is best at advising on public health. To my certain knowledge, only one scientist has been with us this morning, my colleague, Teachta O'Rourke. Everyone involved in this equation should do what they are qualified and competent to do. In the case of our witnesses that is, of course, to run airlines.

My questions relate to the retention of jobs, of which 140,000 are potentially at stake. I will address my questions specifically to Mr. Doyle from Aer Lingus in the first instance. I put to him the view of some of his own workers who say that Aer Lingus is on the brink of extinction. They fear that the company will be wound up to release assets and equity to assist the other companies that form part of IAG. They are deeply concerned about the future of the jobs. All the while, they see the airport expanding. I appreciate that is a long-term project. These people are deeply concerned about their jobs. Aside from the temporary wage subsidy scheme and the other income continuance schemes which, as we know, have been available to every single sector, what has the Government done with regard to the aviation sector and those jobs in Aer Lingus specifically? What opportunities has it missed? What would Mr. Doyle like to see it do?

Mr. Sean Doyle

Like other companies affected by the pandemic, Aer Lingus has participated in the temporary wage subsidy scheme, the quick launch of which we welcomed. We also welcome its extension but, as we head into the winter and as the crisis continues for aviation, the reality is that the relief the scheme gives to companies like Aer Lingus will decrease. As per the proposals of the aviation task force, we recommend that the temporary wage subsidy scheme be extended into next summer for aviation and aviation-related sectors.

Looking at what other countries have done, in the UK and Spain liquidity has been made available to companies that were investment grade or in a strong position before the crisis. A number of airlines in the UK have participated in those programmes. There are no such programmes available in Ireland. We also believe that, to attract companies to operate in Ireland during the recovery phase, a stimulus is required. This would take the form of the alleviation of airport charges and specific stimulus packages for the regional airports, as I outlined in my earlier statement.

I will refer to the Deputy's comments about IAG and some of the anxieties she has expressed, again I would judge-----

I want to be very clear. These are not anxieties I have expressed but anxieties expressed to me by constituents. As Mr. Doyle will know, Aer Lingus and the airport are big employers in the area. People are very worried. These are not my concerns. I did not invent them. They were expressed by Aer Lingus's own workers. It is really to them that Mr. Doyle is speaking when he addresses the point. I put them to him because they were put to me.

Mr. Sean Doyle

If I look at IAG's track record since it became the parent of Aer Lingus, it speaks for itself. We have expanded Aer Lingus at a pace that we have not seen in its history. We have added eight new north Atlantic destinations, increasing the level of connectivity into and out of the island of Ireland. US foreign direct investment, FDI, makes up a large part of the economic model of Ireland and what Aer LIngus has done has been a critical enabler of that FDI, as well as boosting the tourism market.

We delivered nine new aeroplanes into Aer Lingus and we have commitments for a further 12, again to carry on the long-haul expansion. We have added more than 1,000 jobs. We entered into this crisis with a balance sheet that was stronger than most of our European peers and has allowed us to be resilient through the crisis. What we are highlighting-----

Time is very tight for me so I apologise for interrupting Mr. Doyle. It is a lovely story about what has happened but could he just address the concerns that were directly raised with regard to what Aer Lingus workers believe is planned and how many of their jobs are currently on the line? For them, it is a very real crisis and they are deeply concerned. Mr. Doyle will understand that given the unprecedented times, what has happened in previous times is not of interest to staff who specifically want to know their jobs are going to be protected. They want to know exactly what Aer Lingus is doing and what the Government is doing to protect those jobs.

Mr. Sean Doyle

We have communicated directly to our employees on the actions we have had to take and continue to take. We are in a process of consultation with all of the representative bodies about redundancies at Aer Lingus. I will respect the confidentiality of the process we are in. If there is any news other than that we will share that directly with employees and their representative bodies first.

I must tell Mr. Doyle that it is a very disappointing response. I say that as somebody who was elected to represent a significant number of those workers who have come to me with concerns. I respectfully suggest that he reflects on his communications process because the confidence he has expressed has not been expressed to me by his employees.

Mr. Sean Doyle

We have communicated directly to our employees on all of the actions we are taking. We have worked constructively with all the representative bodies to try to find ways through this crisis. As I said at the outset, it is the deepest crisis we have ever experienced. Everybody in aviation is very anxious about the crisis and we are having to take tough action to get through it. We communicated that very clearly and very honestly to our employees and we will continue to do so.

I thank Mr. Doyle.

I thank Mr. Doyle and Mr. Wilson for attending. Given the dramatic decrease in passenger numbers due to Covid, it is timely that we re-evalute aviation in Ireland. I represent Limerick city, which has been significantly dependent on the vitality of Shannon Airport and we can see the trends that are emerging.

It seems to me that there is likely to be a correlation between the development of Ireland's motorway network and the growth in flights to and from Dublin Airport and the number of passengers passing through that airport. We have seen many private bus operators establish comprehensive services from Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford direct to Dublin Airport. Prior to Covid, we were seeing a large growth in coach tourism, which has Dublin city as its base. In recent years, tourists could jump on a tour bus on the quays in Dublin at 7 a.m. and do a whistle-stop tour of the west and be back in Temple Bar that night. I would like to hear the perspective of the airlines on this trend of the past decade and how in a post-Covid market they expect their business to develop in the coming years with regard to the balance of services between Dublin and Shannon.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I will take that question. I am not up to speed on the bus traffic between Dublin and Shannon but I do not doubt that is the case. We have made significant investment not just in Dublin Airport but also in Shannon Airport. We are a big supporter of Shannon Airport and Cork Airport as well. We won a lot of services from Shannon Airport and our hope is that we can continue that relationship and develop and grow it. However, if we do not have markets to connect to, those regional airports are probably the ones that will be much weaker than the city airports such as Dublin.

What we should do, in line with the aviation task force, is to have an incentive scheme for airport charges so that we can do something to stimulate the industry, hang on to the traffic we have and, hopefully, grow it when we come out the other side. We have a long road ahead of us. Buses are not factored into our planning on where we allocate resources.

Mr. Sean Doyle

I will add a comment on behalf of Aer Lingus. I agree with what Ryanair has said. We have a presence at Cork Airport where we expanded our network last year. We also expanded our network this summer from Shannon Airport, adding Paris and Barcelona as destinations. We do not necessarily see that the growth of connectivity out of Dublin Airport comes at the expense of the regions, but I do think the regions are more vulnerable coming out of this crisis, as Ryanair stated, without the effect of some stimulus packages. We remain committed to the region but I also urge the Government to execute the recommendations of the task force.

What Dublin is about for Aer Lingus is a hub and what that enables us to do is to begin to expand our north Atlantic presence at the hub and to compete internationally with other hubs for traffic. That enables two things; the first is that Ireland is very well placed to connect traffic from North America into Europe. In enabling that connection traffic, we are also able to expand the direct services into and out of the island of Ireland, which gives us benefits in terms of FDI and tourism. I do not see the development of Dublin as a hub coming at the expense of regional airports. I think we both remain committed to regional airports by virtue of the capacity that has been added but they need to be very competitive coming out of this crisis if we are to restore the level of commitment we would have had in the past.

I thank the witnesses.

I will address my first question to Aer Lingus. A great deal of the lack of confidence in the safety of foreign travel among the public at the moment is to do with flights coming in from North America, in particular the United States, given the levels of Covid there and how the virus still seems to be out of control. Do the witnesses have any comment on what could be done to improve public confidence in flights coming in from the United States?

Mr. Sean Doyle

The first thing I would say is that the volume of both flights and passengers coming in from the United States is a fraction of what it was last year. We shared some data publicly on that front. On average, there are about 150 passengers a day compared to about 4,200 a day last year. A significant percentage of those passengers are connecting into Europe. That traffic tends to be essential travel and repatriation. We are flying to three destinations in North America at the moment, namely, Boston, Chicago and New York. What I urge people to understand is the amount of freight or cargo on those flights. We are transporting thousands of tonnes of exports and imports, much of it pharmaceuticals, into and out of the island of Ireland. That is probably one of the main drivers of us maintaining the network as it currently stands.

What we have called for as a group is for the evaluation with urgency of some testing processes that could enable safe travel to open up Europe and the United States. If we look at the availability of testing capability in the United States, there should be a solution we would evaluate and pursue. That is cognisant of the fact that the United States is significantly behind Europe in terms of the progression of the pandemic. The United States is very important and FDI is fundamental. The number of foreign nationals who have worked for US companies in Ireland who will need to start travelling to and from their homes for work and business will be a big issue. We need to find solutions to enable that to flow safely.

No one disputes the value of the North American routes and aviation in general. While the ordinary person on the street does not have the figures, he or she does understand that it is vital for the economy that we have an aviation sector that is thriving.

I am glad the witness mentioned testing as being part of the solution. This is a common theme that has come from this committee since its inception, and from the public. What have both companies been doing practically in engaging with the Government to deliver a testing regime that works? If a testing regime is implemented and the public has some degree of confidence in it, then our aviation sector will return a lot more quickly than is currently planned out.

Mr. Sean Doyle

The ambition to progress a testing solution for the United States of America came about last week. It is very early days. I know the DAA were talking about some solutions for the North American market that should be evaluated. We are keen to urge that we act with speed and that we make sure there is tight co-ordination across all stakeholders. There are many issues to deal with, including the validation, the data, the transfer of data and the standards of operation relative to the standards set by the health authorities in either jurisdiction. There is a lot of work to do. It needs to be done quickly and executed in a very co-ordinated and joined up way. Considering Ireland's importance to the US market and the importance of foreign direct investment and tourism to the Irish economy, it should be a priority for us as a group of stakeholders to work on. It is early stages of engagement but we are very keen to move on it, and we would bring a lot of energy to supporting it.

I am also interested in Mr. Wilson's comments on that. I cannot believe we are only starting this. This should have been done a couple of months ago. If Mr. Wilson could comment I would appreciate it.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Ryanair flies to different markets from Aer Lingus, which obviously has long haul. Our short haul is exclusively within Europe. Again, the framework already exists. The European Union has decided this already, and we as a nation have decided to exit ourselves from that co-ordinated approach. Currently there is no testing between countries on short haul within Europe, but there is some talk about it. I think we should get on the first level first, which is to put all the EU 27 and the UK on the same platform.

I welcome the representatives from both companies. My first question is to Mr. Doyle on the obvious concern among Aer Lingus staff, and the points that have been made around state aid. The other two companies within the group are in receipt of substantial state aid, British Airways from the UK Government, and Iberia from the Spanish Government. It is perfectly understandable that so many of the staff are concerned about the possibility of Aer Lingus being sacrificed or being squeezed. Can Mr. Doyle give an assurance today to his staff and to all of those other industries that depend on Aer Lingus that this is not the intention, and that he will work equally as hard to ensure a bright future for Aer Lingus as he will for British Airways and Iberia?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We are working equally hard in Aer Lingus as we are in British Airways and Iberia to come through the crisis. We are all taking similar action to shore up our business. As we said at the aviation task force, Ireland has been slower than the other countries in enabling supports for aviation to pull through this. If we enact the recommendations of the aviation task force, coupled with the things we are doing to shore up our business, Aer Lingus will be in a position to prosper in the future and come through the other end of this crisis. Trust me, that is the focus of the commitment of every one of the Aer Lingus team at the minute.

Does Mr. Doyle know the value of the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, at the moment? I note Mr. Doyle's comments on the need to extend that to next summer for the aviation sector.

Mr. Sean Doyle

For us, it would normally cover some 15% of our typical payroll costs, but considering that our payroll has reduced it contributes some 35%. This has been the case over the past three months.

It is helpful and we welcome it but it does not cover all our pay costs. In addition, it does not come near to covering the level of cash outflow we are seeing in the business over the course of the crisis. In reality, we welcome the extension but it does fall from €350 per eligible employee to €203. This means that the contribution to Aer Lingus will decrease in the winter.

Can Mr. Doyle put a figure on the value of the TWSS to the company at the moment?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We do not disclose the detail but I have given the Deputy the percentage. It is approximately 35% of our payroll costs at the minute.

It would be helpful to know what that amounts to. Is Mr. Doyle stating that there are similar wage support schemes in operation for British Airways and Iberia?

Mr. Sean Doyle

Wage support schemes are in operation in the UK and liquidity supports are available, not just to airlines but also to bigger businesses, which have been accessed by airlines such as Wizz Air, Ryanair and British Airways. These are the kinds of facility available in the UK. Similarly, liquidity supports are available to bigger businesses in Spain, which Iberia has been able to access.

The witnesses mentioned the task force and the need to implement the recommendations. Is there a system in place to oversee the implementation of those recommendations? Are Aer Lingus or Ryanair involved in that?

Mr. Sean Doyle

Our involvement was through the task force that was set up by the former Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I assume that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is where the decision will be made around implementing the task force, but obviously it has broader considerations across the Cabinet.

My next question applies to both companies but I will address it to Mr. Wilson from Ryanair. We hear all the time about Ireland being an outlier and having stricter regimes. Both witnesses have identified that the big issue is consumer confidence, which is very low. Does Mr. Wilson accept that this directly relates to Ireland's supervision system for incoming travellers being extremely weak? Last week's figures showed that only 3.5% of travellers arriving to Ireland are supervised in any kind of way when it comes to contact. Does Mr. Wilson accept that if we put in place an effective testing regime, it would greatly help to restore consumer confidence? I must say again that I am surprised neither Aer Lingus or Ryanair - or the DAA earlier - is making concrete proposals in that regard. I would have thought it would be very much in their interest to ensure we have an effective testing regime. I am surprised there are not actual concrete proposals coming forward on that.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The issue of testing is one for the public health authorities because they have to look at every citizen in the State, look at all the risks, and look at how to carry that out. The idea that one would just confine this to inbound travel is something to explore, but probably more so from countries on long-haul basis. I say this in a very general way. There is not that requirement in the European Union at the moment. I bring this back to the World Health Organization and how countries deal with this on a sub-national level rather than trying to parse it out into international travel. Regardless of whether we have international travel we will have a-----

I accept Mr. Wilson's point on European travel but this is specifically with regard to Aer Lingus. Is there not a big issue because Ireland is the only EU country that allows North Americans to travel here? The rest of Europe, in the main, is closed to American travellers. Would Mr. Doyle accept that this is a major problem in terms of a loss of confidence?

I ask that Mr. Doyle be brief because we need to move on to the next speaker.

Mr. Sean Doyle

The number of passengers coming in and the number of flights we operate are a fraction of what we have seen in the past. We communicate clearly all the requirements for entering Ireland in the context of quarantine, we email the passenger locator form, and our crew remind people on board of their obligations on entering Ireland. We fulfil absolutely, to the nth degree, the requirements placed on us by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and by the HSE.

The Irish authorities have a better system.

Deputy Shorthall is two and a half minutes overtime.

Mr. Sean Doyle

We would be up for engagement on anything that would restore confidence in the US travel market. We would be an energetic participant in that.

We will move to the next speaker. If we have time at the end, we will return to this issue. I call on Deputy Bríd Smith.

I am struck by the statements of both of our guests. Oddly, there is something I very much agree with in them, namely, that, as an island nation, we need an aviation industry and a national airline. AIG may well let Aer Lingus go bust, but is that not a reminder to us all that the privatisation of that airline was not just a mistake in the first place but a catastrophic one for workers, for the State and for the economy at large? I am in favour of helping workers in both airlines but we should remind ourselves that the model in the aviation industry is unsustainable in the long term from the point of view of climate and the environment. We need connectivity and a functioning airline industry. Our guests submissions include many figures but what they have left out are the figures for the airline community in the year prior to Covid-1. I refer to several hundreds of millions of euro for Aer Lingus and in the region of €1 billion for Ryanair. They both make the case for State aid in one form or another. The State is paying a large part of the companies' wages under the wage subsidy scheme and their workers have a good case for assistance, but both companies have behaved badly towards their workers. They have undermined them and tried to impose lay-offs, wage cuts and the rearrangement of contracts.

I ask the witness from Ryanair to explain why the company is coming in here with its hand out pleading for more support while it is making applications to the High Court for costs of up to €13.5 million in respect of 11 pilots arising from their right to ballot their members for industrial action? Ten of those pilots are based in Ireland and their ability to represent their colleagues is being restricted. To me, that looks like intimidation. Ryanair has sacked pilot representatives across Europe in disproportionate numbers. The best description we have of the company's negotiations with unions since its so-called recognition of them is torturous. Self-employed pilots have been used as an industrial weapon against direct employees in terms of the scheduling of full-time rosters for those who are self-employed and leaving direct employees without any flight work. In the context of its efforts to divide and conquer the workers and take these 11 pilots through the High Court to seek retribution regarding their right to ballot their members, the company has no right to come here with its hand out to the State looking for more money. If it were to back off in the war on workers, we might be able to support the cases of both Aer Lingus and Ryanair and there might be some way of bargaining support for their demands for more state aid. Can Ryanair address the question of why it is pursuing these pilots in this manner, please?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I do not agree with how the Deputy has put that point across. I am not going to comment in detail on the court case that is ongoing. Needless to say, it is about how the ballot was actually conducted. Any worker would want ballots to be held in a proper way and that is the subject of these proceedings. The Deputy seems to be out of touch with what is happening in our relationships with unions. It may have escaped her notice that we have had an engagement with the Fórsa union here in Ireland. Our pilots and cabin crew have recognised the seriousness of the situation and have taken pay cuts of up to 20%. These will be fully restored over four years and this is in the programme because people recognise that here is a great way to preserve jobs until this industry recovers. We have done that throughout Europe with the-----

Is Ryanair willing to-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Can I answer the question, please? We have done that throughout Europe with the Vereinigung Cockpit, VC, union. The Deputy will be aware of the comments of the Unite union in the UK, which called us out and said that if other airlines had followed Ryanair’s process of job preservation, they would have preferred to have been dealing with companies like that. Many of the Deputy’s comments are, quite frankly, unfounded. This is a serious situation as regards job preservation and our people are working with us to make the right decisions.

I have described a method of intimidation that is being used against pilots. The High Court is a very serious personal threat-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The High Court is very serious.

-----for the people involved. I do not see how Mr. Wilson can describe Ryanair's relationship as healthy, respectable or, indeed, co-operative.

It is one of intimidation and if it is getting co-operation it is because it is putting the boot in.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

No. It is because that is how a ballot is carried out. All workers would want to know that ballots are carried out in a transparent fashion; that is exactly what the proceedings are about.

Neither Ryanair nor Aer Lingus is being fair to its workforce. They are been intimidated and consistently threatened with pay cuts, layoffs and with changed contracts. That is what is at heart of this. Ryanair has no right to come here with this hand out to the State-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We do not have our hand out here and these issues have been agreed to through the workers representatives. The Deputy is misinformed.

I have to allow the witnesses to respond because the Deputy has made some fairly serious charges.

He did respond.

He did respond. I thank Deputy Smith. I call Deputy Matt Shanahan to speak.

I thank both Aer Lingus and Ryanair for their attendance here today.

Turning to Mr. Doyle, on Friday I spoke and he reflected what I had said then, which was to raise the question of urgency with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on these issues in respect of testing, in particular, at airports, together with other issues. I heard his response a couple of minutes ago. He stated that the stakeholders need to be involved. Will both Ryanair and Aer Lingus take a leadership position here and push the agenda, particularly in Europe, as Mr. Wilson has outlined? There is a travel arrangement there already for testing. Surely, we can get some of this adopted. Aer Lingus is the only indigenous long-haul provider there. Can we not get point-of-departure testing off the ground and should we not be able to do that in a matter of days? What is the block to this, please?

Mr. Sean Doyle

The point of testing issue has a number of stakeholders involved. First, this is a public health policy that could enable the point of testing to be an alternative to quarantine. That is very relevant in seeking a way to open up the US market. I agree with Ryanair on Europe. Europe has a different template for travel within the EU 27. It is in a very different place in the pandemic. We have said to the committee here today that Ireland should follow the lead of other countries in Europe in opening up travel. We advocate that we need to look at a testing solution for the US and North American market . That should be the responsibility of the airlines but should be worked on in collaboration with airports, public health officials and the relevant authorities. We are willing to engage in it. As a group we have called for the evaluation of that for travel between Europe and the North American markets. We remain ready and able to support that.

I thank Mr. Doyle. Nobody has full expertise here but both companies are significant players and they have the leadership to drive this agenda. With due respect to the Department and to public health, if one is waiting for civil servants to drive an agenda one will be waiting quite a length of time. I suggest that both companies which are looking for subsidies from the State should be proactive in offering and being seen to drive solutions here.

Referring to Mr. Doyle’s point on the task force, planned airport infrastructural programmes should be delivered in full and on time. I refer to the comment on the national children’s hospital as I am not quite sure what sort of a statement that is to put into a document. It is aspirational and does not have anything in it. Will the witness come back to me in writing on how he envisages this being done through procurement in the future?

Turning to Mr. Wilson on state aid and subsidies to travel, he stated in his document that all of the state aid that has been provided throughout Europe is on a magnitude many times that which we in Ireland can afford. If subsidies were to be offered to companies such as Ryanair, I would like to see this done on a regional basis. As bad as Dublin Airport is, the regions are going to be served even more poorly into the future. Will Ryanair look at the question of regional subsidies in trying to create more aircraft capacity for the regional airports?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I will answer that question in two ways. The first issue is that we are not here to look for state aid. We were very grateful for the wage subsidy at the very start of this process. Now that our people are gradually coming back to work that has become less and less as only 8% of our people are here in Ireland. We are a multinational company. The state aid which we refer to in Europe is illegal state aid.

Lufthansa has received €11 billion. That includes an extra €2 billion since I submitted the document because the Belgian Government stumped up €2 billion for this private company. We want to see what is happening.

Ireland has two private airlines that we take for granted and that are world class in what they do. The Government policy at the moment is to push the airlines away. It is approximately 8% of our market. We are not here looking for state aid. We are looking for incentives to preserve the traffic that exists and grow it next year. Traffic in Europe is facing an apocalypse over the next three or four years and we are going to be left on the sidelines if we do not get moving. Spain and Portugal have put incentives in place. Airlines make decisions around those incentives and allocate resources accordingly. The two Irish airlines, Aer Lingus and Ryanair, are telling the Government that they are not open for business. We need to get on top of that. The incentives for which we are looking will benefit the economy. We are not looking for a bailout or state aid.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

That comment was not directed at the Deputy.

We all recognise that there are connectivity issues. The credit guarantee scheme that has been proposed under the July stimulus package is on the basis of a relaxation of state aid, so I would fully support any subvention or subsidies that can be given to both airlines to improve their situation.

I thank our guests for attending. My questions will be directed more towards the representatives from Aer Lingus if they do not mind. Cabin crew at Aer Lingus have been raising serious concerns. Their original fortnightly pay was reduced by 50% on 30 March. As of July, their level of pay has been reduced even though they are working. They were misinformed that the company would pay 30% of their salaries and that the Government would give them a top-up of €700 fortnightly. They assumed that they would be getting more than €350 per week but that is not the case. Going by their payslips, those crew members are only getting a Covid-19 payment.

Some crew members have filled out the UP1 and UP14 social welfare forms to claim reduced work benefits. They were told by Citizens Information and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection that they are entitled to claim. However, the human resources department in Aer Lingus is refusing to sign the forms. The crew members are not allowed to self-declare so if the company refuses to sign, they do not get any added benefits from social welfare in order to claim their stamps. I have a couple of questions to ask about that and I would like this issue to be specifically addressed. These staff members are definitely entitled to supports according to Citizens Information and the Department. The process in question is the famous X and O options on social welfare applications. If someone is to work five days a week but is only provided with three days' work, he or she is entitled to two days off if the company will mark the appropriate X or O. I have done it as an employer. Why will Aer Lingus stamp those forms? I would appreciate an answer to that simple question. What is being done to save the jobs of the cabin crew? What can be done? Aer Lingus and Fórsa have informed staff that they are in talks and that 230 crew members will be made redundant in the coming months. Nobody knows whether it will be based on voluntary redundancy or not. If not, it will be mostly junior crew who will be made redundant without a redundancy package. In May, Aer Lingus made redundant anyone who joined the company in 2019. There was no press coverage of that at all.

Members of Aer Lingus staff have told me that they have been flying in America and overnighting in Europe throughout this time and, while managers have been kind and helpful, those members of staff are worried and feel that they have been let down after all their hard work. It is horrendous that they may potentially lose their jobs. Those people have little or no money on which to live after their rent has been paid. They are members of Fórsa but feel that the union is not doing much to stick up for them.

Aer Lingus will begin new working conditions in the coming months which will mean more work for less pay, according to some crew members. What plans has Aer Lingus to look after its staff who worked through the pandemic and should be considered front-line staff?

Mr. Sean Doyle

There is a lot in what the Deputy has asked. Perhaps I will start about the questions about payroll and the TWSS. We have operated the TWSS in a way that is entirely consistent with the legislation enacted and have worked closely with the Revenue Commissioners in that regard. We have had to implement cost-saving measures and I refer the Deputy to the hours of work and pay that have been given by the airline. We operated approximately 5% of the normal Aer Lingus flying programme between April and June. Our programme increased a little in July but was still less than 20% of a normal year. Over that period, we guaranteed 50% of hours and wages to our employees.

In every case, the full value of the subsidy has been passed on to our employees. Anybody who was entitled to more, on the basis of the commitment that we made, was topped up over and above the subsidy to the pay applicable to the hours they have worked. In addition, for the days that employees did not work, we paid an amount equivalent to the short-time working payment they would otherwise have received from social welfare.

We have, unfortunately, had to lay off some staff members but we still paid them the full subsidy, thereby maintaining the employment relationship between the airline and those employees. We have been compliant with the legislation pertaining to the TWSS and have worked hard to make sure that is the case.

I will talk about the guarantees we can give. At the outset, I told the committee about the scale of the challenge we are facing and how unprecedented it is. At the moment, we are well behind what other European carriers are doing to reinstate services, recover the operation and have more hours to go around. We are uncertain about the future because our pathway, in the short term, is unclear. That returns to the points I made earlier. We have been engaging constructively with Fórsa, SIPTU and the Irish Air Line Pilots Association. Unfortunately, we are yet to reach the kinds of agreements that we would have liked but we have put a lot of effort and energy into those engagements.

I apologise but I am running out of time, so I will stop Mr. Doyle there. I asked about people who are working a three-day week instead of a five-day week. Those employees have two days outstanding there and the company is refusing to stamp their forms. Why is Aer Lingus refusing to stamp those forms?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We are complying with the guidance that we have been given by Revenue and the Department about the TWSS. I can give the Deputy a more specific response in writing if we do not have time to go into that issue now.

I would appreciate it if Mr. Doyle did that because the matter is of serious concern to the staff. It has caused a loss of income to the staff who are struggling at this time. It is a common basic right if an employer can only provide work to an employee three days a week. The employer should mark on the forms the days on which the staff member has been employed and the days on which he or she has not been. That is being refused to staff in Aer Lingus and is unfair in these difficult times. I would appreciate it if Mr. Doyle replied to me in writing as to why this is the case.

I have a number of questions to pose to our guests. I will direct my first question to Mr. Doyle. We all understand that the industry is suffering from a shock. It is on its knees and I want to preface everything I say by recognising that. I represent County Clare and I live on a flight path for planes landing in and taking off from Shannon. I do not need Flightradar24 to tell me that there is very little in the skies. When I look up at the sky from my back garden, it is evident that aviation in Shannon is suffering a real downturn.

When Aer Lingus announced the temporary laying off of staff, its decision was communicated by video. That was totally improper given that the news was received with devastation by staff members. Many of those staff members did not see it coming. The week before the lay-offs were announced, there had been talk of company restructuring which staff members read about in the media and on a WhatsApp message that was circulating. Would Mr. Doyle say that, from the outset, he and his colleagues in human resources of Aer Lingus handled all of this well? I would like to hear his views on that.

Mr. Sean Doyle

The Deputy must remember that we were communicating in the midst of the pandemic so it was impossible to co-ordinate face-to-face communication. We communicated directly through video links and set up briefings. Those were the best means we could enable considering the crisis we were in at the time. If we were not in a pandemic crisis, of course we would have got people together face-to-face but that would have been in breach of HSE guidance at the time. That was the reality of the situation in which we were.

One had to be logged in and online in order to watch those videos. I was in the company of one employee shortly after she heard of the temporary lay-offs via a WhatsApp message she received from a colleague. That is not good enough and, despite of all the restrictions under which we are all living, there would have been better ways for that to have communicated that information from a human resources perspective.

My understanding is that Aer Lingus contracts are to the company and are not specific to Shannon, Cork or Dublin airports or the other bases from which the company operates. The contracts are specific to the company as opposed to the relevant airport.

Many of the cabin crew based out of Shannon rank among the most senior of the 1,600 cabin crew of Mr. Doyle's company. The standard procedure in most places of work is that it is a case of last in, first out but in this case, when lay-offs were on the horizon, it seemed that staff recruited in Dublin, some of them as late as last November and December, retained their jobs while some in Shannon who have been committed to the company for 20 or 25 years faced temporary lay-off. Will Mr. Doyle explain the logic behind that because it certainly seems unfair and tilted towards one side of the country?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We have had to lay staff off in all of our locations. In fact, we have laid off more people at our Dublin base than we did in Shannon. Unfortunately, we are not operating any flights out of Shannon Airport and throughout this crisis we have aligned the work-----

Did Mr. Doyle offer cabin crew an opportunity to relocate to Dublin and minibus up and down for a couple of weeks? Airlines have done that in the past. Did he offer them a plan B in that regard?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We do not have an operation out of Shannon. We have cabin crew and a ground handling base at Shannon. There was no work there to employ them to. We were also laying off people at Dublin and we were reducing the hours of operation significantly at Dublin. This is not an issue to do with seniority. It is simply an issue of where the work was and how we were able to deploy that work. At the minute we do not have flights at Shannon that we are operating.

Their contract is with Aer Lingus, not with Shannon Airport, so there was an onus on Mr. Doyle's company to at a minimum offer them the possibility of taking a minibus up and down to Dublin. Other airlines flying from Shannon have done it in the past. They could at least take home a salary every week. Some of them with 20 and 25 years service have lost out to someone who is only with the company five or six months but I heard Mr. Doyle's answer, which I believe is a resounding "No".

When does Mr. Doyle anticipate a resumption of flights to and from Shannon, in particular flights to and from Heathrow Airport?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We evaluate what is happening on the demand side. We are making commercial decisions all the time about where we fly. The reality is that when we see the demand pick up we would then evaluate what we can reinstate. The Shannon-Heathrow service is very much on a watch list and as soon as that becomes viable we would be keen to reinstate that service, but at the minute it is not at a point where it is viable.

In talks we have had with airport management, September has been flagged as a potential return to that service. Could Mr. Doyle confirm that, if possible?

Mr. Sean Doyle

I cannot confirm it because it is not confirmed. We are evaluating the situation. As I said, the impact of the current policies are suppressing demand and we are not in a position to confirm when the Shannon-Heathrow service will be restored.

Is it the case that if somebody books online vis-à-vis the Aer Lingus for a Shannon flight they will get an email a day or two later stating that flight is not possible and offering them an alternative flight out of Dublin?

Mr. Sean Doyle

I can give the Deputy the specific details but we are trying to keep as much of the shape of our network as possible in the medium term. Sometimes that involves having schedules that are published for later in the year open. That is a way of us gaging whether there is enough demand for those to fly, and then we have to take action. It is an important indicator as to whether there are enough people to fly the route to make it viable. The reality of the situation is that it is very fluid and dynamic and, at the minute, we are not seeing the demand come back to confirm when the Shannon-Heathrow service will be reinstated. I would love to see the demand come back more quickly to be at a point where we could do that.

I understand the traditional customer demand, which is obviously the driving motive of a company. It has to meet customer demand and that is how it schedules flights but we are in extraordinary times. I understand that people who were booked on flights out of Shannon got emails to state they can fly out of Cork or Dublin airports. Alternatives were given so ipso facto that works also. Aer Lingus has perfectly good aircraft parked up now for nine or ten weeks on the apron of Shannon Airport. It could reverse its policy where it flies everything out of Dublin and offer a few flights out of Shannon.

I ask about the neojets. I understand it is more efficient for Mr. Doyle's airline to fly them out of Shannon because it is a longer runway. Every time a neojet takes off from Dublin Airport its payload is reduced by 40 passengers. There is less cargo going off it so therefore it is less profitable. In these crisis months has Mr. Doyle looked at flying some of those neojets out of Shannon where he will get a better payload, certainly in terms of cargo if not passengers?

Mr. Sean Doyle

The reality of the neo is that we are addressing the payload restrictions by installing some additional tanks. It is not a significant issue out of Dublin and it will become less of a significant issue as we get into the winter.

We stopped using wide-bodies out of Shannon some years ago and they are the main way in which cargo is transported. The cargo uplift on a narrow body is much smaller so I do not think cargo would make the case for the neo being deployed to Shannon. We need healthy passenger demand to make the case work. In terms of the neo out of Dublin, the payload restriction, considering the loads we currently have, is not a significant factor in the economics.

I ask Mr. Wilson about the change fee in Ryanair. Yesterday evening, I got an email from a constituent and I asked her if I could outline her case. She has not replied yet so I will anonymise it. Essentially, it was very attractive, costing approximately €1,000 for her to fly out of Shannon on a Ryanair flight to sunny Spain but the change fee Mr. Wilson's airline is applying is €870. I will repeat that. The cost of the flight is €1,000. The change fee is €870. Will Mr. Wilson comment on the ethics of that? It is screwing people to charge that amount to administratively change names and dates on a ticket.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I do not have the specifics but what the Deputy may be alluding to is that somebody booked a flight, probably at a much earlier time, and then availed of lower fares. That person then wanted to change it to another time when other people had booked but the fares have increased and they paid the appropriate fare differences. That is what I can best guess in that regard. The Deputy should believe me that we have enough of a problem filling flights without putting in additional charges. There are no additional charges in that. It would be a reflection on the popularity of the particular flight in question.

I would dispute that given it cost €1,000.

I have a final question which may be replied to in writing. Aer Lingus Cargo continues to have very profitable cargo, much of it from Boston Scientific, sitting on the apron of Shannon Airport. It is trucked overnight to Heathrow. It does not make any commercial sense for that to be happening but I understand my time is up so Mr. Doyle might-----

The Deputy has a little more time.

Mr. Doyle might comment on that because it is codeshare airlines that then take that from Heathrow Airport and fly it to the United States. It makes no sense. It is on the runway of Shannon Airport and trucked overnight to Heathrow. I wonder what our Green Party colleagues would say in terms of the carbon footprint but leaving all that aside, it seems illogical and costly-----

I think we will just get the answer.

Mr. Sean Doyle

We provide freight solutions through a number of gateways. Ideally, one would get those through Dublin but we do not have the type of capacity at Dublin to meet that particular flow and we then find another flow. The most important thing we can do is provide a service to Boston Scientific to get its goods in and out of the country. As I said, a solution that works for it is not available at the minute on Aer Lingus metal. It normally would be available because we would have a wide-body aircraft for Boston Scientific but the overall cargo demand and the overall passenger demand do not justify the deployment of that type of solution on that route. As I said, if demand came back we would have an island of Ireland solution that would enable that freight but at the minute we do not.

The next speaker is Deputy Quinlivan from Sinn Féin.

My question is for Aer Lingus. I am a TD representing Limerick city. Shannon Airport is crucial to the economic development of the mid-west region and of particular importance is the Shannon-Heathrow service. When Aer Lingus made the decision to restructure at the start of the pandemic and stopped flights from Shannon, why did it allow flights from Cork and Dublin and why did it choose not to have flights from Shannon?

Mr. Sean Doyle

The decisions were taken purely on the commercial realities. We kept a flight from Cork to Heathrow and three per week into Amsterdam. There was greater demand out of Cork than there was out of Shannon so the flights at Shannon would have been unviable based on the assessment we did at that time. We do it very frequently and at the minute we have not seen any recovery that would indicate we can reinstate those flights. I look forward to the day when we would because we understand the importance of the Heathrow connection to Shannon.

In reply to a Deputy earlier, Mr. Doyle referred to when demand for Shannon comes back. How will he know when demand for Shannon comes back if the airline has no scheduled flight from Shannon? How will he judge that?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We have various indicators that we look at. One would be the overall level of passengers and from where they are booking.

We look at the level of searches on our website for flights to Shannon and we also look at some of the longer-term booking trends. That evaluation is something we do routinely. It is part of our business to evaluate where flights are viable to reinstate, and we do it very frequently.

I understand that. I worked in the travel industry for 19 years and I know how search flights processes work. However, the question is who would search for a flight when one knows it is not there. How is Aer Lingus going to anticipate demand from and into Shannon?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We have various ways of anticipating demand and we also publish longer-term schedules that allow us to see whether or not flights are picking up. We have a number of very capable people who look at this. If we look at the wider demand this summer, it is not recovering in the way we would have hoped for five or six weeks ago. I refer back to the fact that policies and the narrative around travel have been negative in this period. That has not helped any evaluations we have done with a view to reinstating the Shannon-Heathrow service.

As Mr. Doyle knows, a number of staff at Shannon Airport are on temporary lay-off. Are there any plans to bring them back and put them to work, whether at Shannon, Cork or Dublin Airport?

Mr. Sean Doyle

The Deputy mentioned full-time work and that would require us to operate more or less to full-time hours. Whether we can do so will be driven by the speed at which we can reinstate the Aer Lingus flying programme, and that is driven by the environment in terms of both policies and how much demand is out there. That is the reality of the way we are having to plan our business at this time.

Has Aer Lingus been in discussions with the trade unions representing the workers at Shannon?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We were in discussions with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, initially. We agreed a Covid recovery plan but, unfortunately, it was not accepted by the parties within the timeline we set. We had a subsequent engagement with SIPTU and again agreed a Covid recovery plan. That plan would have enabled us gradually to restore hours and pay but it was rejected by ballot. We are now in consultation with all the representative bodies around the redundancies we need. We have had a consultation with the unions representing pilots which concluded with an agreement that was successfully balloted.

Finally, I have been contacted by a large number of constituents complaining about the length of time it is taking for Aer Lingus to respond to email and telephone queries regarding cancelled and rescheduled flights. I am sure other Deputies are hearing the same from their constituents. Aer Lingus has had a really good reputation for many years for first-class customer service. How can management stand over the poor customer service it is currently offering when it has staff who want to come to work and would be able to do the work of answering emails and telephone calls?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We have reinstated a lot of resources to deal with our backlog. We have kept on our books people who are technically capable of processing customer queries and employed them to do so. We have also invested in a lot of technology to get through the backlog. I refer back to the point we made, as did the representatives from Ryanair, that the scale of cancellations and refunds we are seeing is unprecedented. We in Aer Lingus and the industry in general have never seen anything like it. We had to cancel 95% of our planned flights for April, May and June. We are working as hard as we can to get through the backlog of customer queries as quickly as we can. We are making progress, as I said, but the scale of transactions we are having to process is unprecedented.

I understand the scale of what is involved because I was working in the business when the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 happened. That was a difficult situation, although I accept it was not on the same scale as what is happening now. My point is that there are staff in Shannon who have told me they would be able to do this work but they have not been asked by Aer Lingus management to do it. I find that strange. Constituents are contacting me to say they cannot get through to Aer Lingus customer service on the telephone and have had no response to their emails. I understand the scale of the cancellations but if Aer Lingus have staff available who are able to help, I find it bizarre that management would not ask them to come in and do the job.

Mr. Sean Doyle

We are doing everything we can to clear the backlog. As I said, the scale is unprecedented. The Deputy mentioned the terror attacks that occurred on 11 September 2001. Air travel fell by 7% in the period after those attacks. It fell by 95% in the first two months of this crisis.

I thank the witnesses for their submissions and presentations. The submission from Ryanair contained a suggestion that there would be a reduction in airport charges to help the industry. Has that been done in any other EU member state at this stage?

My second question relates to the criticism by some of the witnesses of the Government's approach to foreign travel and the issuing of the green list. To what extent has activity in the airline industry increased since policy changes have been introduced in other countries? We know that there was a 95% reduction in flight activity overall, with a reduction in the April monthly total from 14 million trips the previous year to 40,000 this year. To what extent has there been any recovery in the numbers in the rest of Europe?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

On the issue of supports, there has been, for example, a 100% discount in landing charges in Spain and a 75% reduction in Portugal. Cyprus is offering incentives on a per passenger basis and Sicily, which has a larger population than the Republic of Ireland, has introduced a specific incentive scheme for low-fare airlines. In those cases, the airlines know what is going to happen in terms of supports being offered. The point is that there is going to be a smaller pool of available seats, not only this winter or next summer but for the next three or four years. Once we get into next summer, assuming we do not have a full second wave and nothing else untoward happens, we are probably the only airline that has the ability to grow. We have 200 additional aircraft on order. What is going to happen in Ireland is that the only seats that will be available in any significant volume are those on the two airlines that are represented here today. Everybody else is retrenching. We can see that happening already. What the Government should do is introduce a programme that reduces charges, not just for Ryanair but for any airline that wants to fly here.

As a matter of interest, what was the total amount paid by Ryanair in airport charges in 2019?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

In Ireland it was probably close to €160 million.

That was for 2019.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Yes. That is the approximate figure for what we might call the last normal year of operation.

Does Mr. Wilson accept that because the number of flights is drastically reduced, any reduction in airport charges, if it is to be effective in providing an income to airlines, will have to involve a major subsidisation by the Government?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Yes, but the Government has to put a response in at this point. We can see the responses happening in other countries. Aena, for instance, which is the equivalent of the Dublin Airport Authority for most of the airports in Spain, has put in a scheme. These are extraordinary times and there is nothing wrong with stimulus. Indeed, the Government is putting in stimulus in other parts of the economy and the same is needed for aviation if Ireland is to maintain its current connectivity. An airport without passengers is just a building, not an airport. The State needs to incentivise airlines.

Will Mr. Wilson address my second question about the extent of any increase in aviation activity since the changes in approach on the part of other member states?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Ryanair has brought its schedules back to 40% in July and 60% for August. We hope we will fly approximately 70% of the 40% in July and 70% of the 60% in August. However, the prospect for the winter is completely uncertain. Yesterday, we guided to the market that we are going to fly 60 million passengers this year instead of the 150 million we had previously indicated. That 60 million may well be on the down side. As I said, we are going to have countries vying for capacity. People really need to wake up to that reality. Our attendance here today is not like the representatives of some localised industry coming in and saying they are in trouble. Airlines can move to different countries and Ireland is one country in the European Union that needs airline connectivity probably more than any other. We all remember what it was like before we had that connectivity and it will be gone unless we do something now. If the Government does not act, the traffic will go. There are 140,000 jobs in aviation that depend directly on that connectivity and another 350,000 indirectly dependent on it. We need to get real about this because if we do not incentivise aviation activity, it will go elsewhere.

I wish to ask Aer Lingus about moving flights from Cork or Shannon to Dublin. I have received complaints about flights being moved out of Cork. I know the complaint has already been made about Shannon. Is there no policy of trying to keep some connectivity with the airports outside Dublin?

Mr. Sean Doyle

As I said, we have had to make some tough decisions. We have a very small operation in Cork now, a service to Heathrow and another to Amsterdam. It was not viable to maintain a service at Shannon. The Senator should trust me, we have also made significant reductions at Dublin Airport, which is operating at a fraction of what it would have operated at this time last year. There is no part of the Aer Lingus operation that has not been dramatically downsized in the past couple of months. Where we have not had a flight operating out of Shannon, we have given people an alternative. That makes sense for us to do for our customers.

Deputy Wynne has five minutes.

I thank the witnesses for attending and for answering the pressing questions. Both airlines are calling for the removal of the 14-day quarantine period in respect of visitors from all EU countries. If this happens, how will the airlines help the Government to ensure the safety of passengers and staff coming into and going out of Ireland?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

What we will do, or, rather, what we have already done as we continue to fly, is to adapt the safety protocols that were set out by the EASA and also the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. We comply with those. As the WHO has stated, there are no known cases of person-to-person transmission onboard aircraft. We have a state-of-the-art filtration systems and masks are used on board. The Deputy will recall that we were the first to call for the use of masks more than two months ago. These sensible measures, if put in place, will facilitate the return to normal air travel. We are complying with that already.

Ireland does not have to do anything other than to say that it is complying with this and to put the EU 27 and the UK on the green list. The health service does what it has done exceptionally well, namely to deal with clusters and infection rates within their jurisdiction. There should be no idea that other countries in Europe are not taking the health of their citizens as seriously as we are here; of course they are. Ireland will also be unfortunate enough to have clusters as we open up. The WHO says that once countries start to open up, there will be more infection. Countries must get on top of that. We really need to get all the countries in Europe back on the green list. They are exactly the same as us and we should take that direction from the EU. I think it is the first time ever that we have not. The idea that Ireland would ignore, say, the European Environment Agency would suggest and do something completely different is unprecedented. People may think they are doing the right thing but it is about the damage they will do, not only to the airlines but the economy. I would like to come back here next year and what it will look like then.

What is the airline's commitment to Shannon airport. It is in my region, in Clare. This is a pressing issue. Were the Government to fund the airlines, how would they ensure that service would return to the regional airport of Shannon.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Is that question for me? We have two aircraft based in Shannon. We operate 17 or 18 routes out of Shannon. We have come to an agreement with our people down there at a time of reduced activity to spread that work. We are still not operating at full capacity. Government policy is that it wants us to fly but it does not want anyone to fly with us. There has to be a breaking point at some stage as to whether we as a business would be better putting those aircraft elsewhere.

We are committed to Shannon, the regional airports and to Cork. We fly into Knock and Kerry. If incentives are put in place, we will put in more traffic.

There are fewer flights in Shannon.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

There are still two aircraft there. We have not taken out any of the aircraft, they are just flying less. Of course we want to fly them more, it would be helpful if we had a programme of incentives, for instance it would be helpful to link Shannon with the rest of Europe if the Government put the rest of Europe and the UK on the green list so that people would want to fly to Shannon.

Earlier Mr. Doyle asked for the relaxation of airport charges. While this would help airlines, how would it help airports?

Mr. Sean Doyle

As Ryanair put it earlier, an airport without airlines is simply a building. Airports would benefit from passenger stimulus. They benefit from throughput. Retail opportunities come out of it. The Government can also support airports and compensate them for the reduction in charges. The stimulus would work by reducing charges for flying into and out of Ireland which would lead to more competitive air fares and attract airlines including Aer Lingus and Ryanair to reintroduce service. Everybody wins; airports get more volume through the airports and tourism and business benefits because there is more direct service.

I would respond to comments by Aer Lingus and Ryanair as follows. It goes without saying that the Government and the Oireachtas are acutely aware of the necessity of ensuring connectivity for business and for reasons of pleasure. However, the airlines must be conscious that the Government also has responsibility for maintaining best practice in health measures. We know this is an island nation and there are only two ways to get off it, one which is appreciably faster than the other, and we know all the implications.

Instead of pointing the finger at the Government and its regulations, can the airlines do anything further to improve the connectivity while simultaneously enhancing the safety measures that are necessary now?

Mr. Sean Doyle

Both Ryanair and Aer Lingus have implemented the safety measures since May to ensure that flying is safe, that is, aircraft cleaning processes, the wearing of masks, health declarations that people submit before they travel, compliance with the passenger locator forms, and the filtering on aircraft which is as clean as a hospital operating theatre and is very effective at dealing with micro-organisms including the coronavirus. What we have heard from IATA thus far is that an aeroplane is a very safe place on which to travel. We do this. We adopted the EASA and the ECDC recommendations very early in the recovery period from the pandemic. What we are shining a light on today is the fact that public health policy and the political policy here in Ireland is out of sync with Europe and is not sustainable as we head into winter and may have to live with the coronavirus for a sustained period. We will have to live alongside the virus. The stated strategy was containment but the aviation strategy appears to be one of elimination and that has big consequences for aviation. We are happy to engage in ways we can support the opening up of borders but we have done everything we can as quickly and as proactively as we can to make sure the elements of travel we cover, when people get to an airport, get on an aircraft and get to the other end, are as safe and as reassuring as they can be.

Have the airlines carried passengers recently from areas of high infection who have been responsible for another spike at their destination?

Mr. Sean Doyle

We would work with the HSE on any contact tracing request we get. HSE tracker data show that in the overall source of transmission, travel averages at about 2% today.

As such we have to understand where travel sits alongside other causes of transmission.

I myself, and I think most people here, would be anxious that every possible assistance be made to the airlines to ensure their long-term viability. We realise the serious threats they are under at the present time, but do they also recognise the issues that face Government at present? These include the possibility of a spike, a recurrence, a second wave and what that will do not only to the health of the people of the country but also ultimately to the economy, including air travel and all the other elements of it.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Of course we do. We also have to protect our people who, as I alluded to earlier, come into close contact. We have said several times during the meeting that this is not just an aviation agenda or a company agenda, it is an economic agenda for this country.

The idea that all infection comes from outside the country is misplaced. We are going to have recurrences of this regardless of air travel. This week Spain had spikes in Catalonia, in Lleida which is just outside Barcelona. There have been spikes in Germany as well, despite the best efforts. It is completely disproportionate to cut off the economic lifeblood of this country, with all the economic damage that will do, on the basis that we believe the only place infection is going to come from is overseas. That is not the case. The virus is going to be with us for a long time and we are going to have to find a way of minimising the risk. Unfortunately, the narrative in this country has moved to people going on their holidays when it is about connectivity. We have got this green list but we have a land border with Northern Ireland. It is porous with people moving backward and forward. People can fly from one country into another. It is a nonsense, it does not work. Even if one wants it to work, it does not work. The public health authorities will do their job in a safe environment within the European Union and the UK where people are working to eliminate this disease. This is not some far-flung place that is not taking this seriously. We will all work together on it.

We in this country are the most vulnerable because we are an island nation. We are going to go back to the 1950s if we do not wake up and do something now, because there are reduced seats and people do not realise what is going to happen with unemployment in this country if we do not get up and do something about it.

We do realise all the implications, on both sides of the argument. That is why I put that out there because I do not always accept the figures put forward by the airlines. For instance, restrictions between the UK and Northern Ireland have been reintroduced in the past couple of weeks.

I thank Deputy Durkan.

I have a couple of questions. Mr. Doyle and Mr. Wilson, you are both Irish, you both live in Ireland or you at least work in Ireland, so you understand Ireland. Why do you think our reaction to the coronavirus is as different as you say it is from that of every other state?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

My personal view is that the Europeans have a history of knowing when there is trouble coming. They have gone through many periods of upheaval. They know they have got a problem and they have to deal with it. Here we have dealt with it by taking positions as if there is an aviation position and a medical position. There is not. There is a middle ground here.

The Europeans approach it like that because they have been through this before, they have been through various crises like this and they get down to business. The German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel and the French President, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, are investing in their industries at breakneck speed at the moment. They are breaking every rule because they know what is actually coming. The EU bailout package is a sideshow compared to what they are doing with their private companies. That will play itself out over the next number of months and we will lose out because of that.

It may be a historical thing and there may be an island mentality here to some extent, which believes that it is all over there and cannot be over here. We signed up for being in Europe. I know people are concerned about this but there is a balance to be struck.

Does Mr. Doyle wish to offer an opinion?

Mr. Sean Doyle

I do not necessarily have an opinion but I struggle to see why we are taking a different approach. I was looking at a 2018 report on foreign direct investment. I think Ireland is approaching something like €700 billion of GDP value in foreign direct investment. That is 256% of domestic GDP. That is approximately five times higher than the European average. We have built our economic model on being open for business and being a global economy. Many companies have invested in Ireland over the past decade on the basis that it is a great place to be headquartered and doing business globally and in Europe. We are taking that for granted and not understanding the consequences for that sector and that economic model if we do not enable connectivity. In other countries, we may be seeing the effect of unemployment more immediately. Certainly in the UK there is news of unemployment levels reaching very scary heights and job losses beginning to hit home a bit more quickly. Politicians are responding to the economic outlook with a bit more urgency on the back of that.

This is a question for Mr. Doyle. He may not have the answer to it. How many of the Heathrow slots that IAG has are currently being used?

Mr. Sean Doyle

I can get the Chairman the exact details, but we are exercising our rights under the slot waiver rule enacted for the summer by the EU. We are not mandated to keep those slots in the 80-20 use-it-or-lose-it space, so we have a much smaller operation. I can write to the committee with the detail of exactly what that looks like.

Mr. Doyle stated that Aer Lingus will reinstate the Shannon service if and when there is sufficient demand and he discussed how that will be determined. People cannot book flights from Shannon to Heathrow at the moment. If Aer Lingus determines there is insufficient demand, what will happen to the Heathrow slots which were guaranteed until 2022 as part of the IAG takeover of the company?

Mr. Sean Doyle

Before the crisis, we were very happy with the performance of our Heathrow services out of Shannon, Cork and Dublin. On the basis that we can recover demand and we can all work together to recover aviation, I would not see that strategy of serving all three of those points from Heathrow changing.

Turning to Mr. Wilson, Ryanair unlike some of its competitors, has a change fee in respect of flights booked after 20 June. The change fee is, I think, €130. For flights booked before 20 June, there is no change fee. How does Mr. Wilson justify that difference and does he think it is appropriate in view of the fact that many families and individual passengers are not flying in response to Government advice or on foot of concerns regarding medical advice relating to other countries?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

People have been put in a very tricky situation whereby their hard-earned money has gone into a holiday and then there is some doubt about whether they should fly based on advice from the Government. The Government needs to deal with that. It cannot have it every way. It cannot say that it wants airlines to fly but that it does not want us to fly any passengers and would rather that the only people who flew had some sort of essential reason for travel, which the Government has yet to specify. Airlines need passengers. There are commercial concerns; it is an expensive business. We changed the policy for July, August and September such that people could change with no change fee. We are on extremely low fares, however, and the reason there is a change fee is so that when somebody books a €9.99 fare, we do not incentivise them to change for a time when that fare goes up to €200 or €250. It is purely commercial. If the Government wants to do something about the conditions it has put in place, it should put something in place for people who have been put in that position. The Government cannot have it both ways. It cannot say that it is going to allow people to fly and then tell them not to fly.

Does Mr. Wilson not think that Ryanair, as a corporate entity, could do something to demonstrate goodwill to those people who will not be flying? These are, as everybody accepts, unprecedented times. These people are not asking for refunds. They are not entitled to them because the flights are still going. Could Ryanair at least wait-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I will say two things about our commitment. Through to the end of March and in April, May and June, we continued to offer repatriation flight services at a total loss, sometimes with one or two passengers on board. We know what our responsibilities are. We did put in a no-change fee, and people can change that up to the end of this calendar year. That is the decision we have made.

It only applies to flights booked after 20 June, not to flights booked prior to that.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

That is correct.

Ryanair could waive the change fee in respect of the flights prior to that if it chose to do so.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The skies are open. We are complying with the European regulations and it is up to the Government to have some coherent policy on this. We are either open or we are not. If our flights are cancelled, people can get their money back, as is their right, under EU Regulation 261/2004. With the green list in place, the Government cannot say that Ryanair and Aer Lingus should leave these flights in place but that it does not want anyone to avail of them. If the Government puts out that sort of conflicted message, well then that is a matter for the Government.

Does Mr. Wilson not think that Ryanair would be in a better place to argue for a more coherent Government policy if it had a more coherent policy in respect of-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We have a perfectly coherent policy, which is that the schedule is in place and that the fares are the lowest in Europe. People booked in good faith. The Government has not stopped people flying. It is incomprehensible as to why it is doing that when the rest of Europe is back flying. If there is doubt as to whether people should fly, that is a matter for the Government in terms of what its advice is.

I am being reminded that we are out of time. I thank the witnesses for attending and for answering our questions.

The committee adjourned at 1.37 p.m. sine die.