Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 10 Dec 1998

Vol. 498 No. 3

Ceisteanna — Questions. Priority Questions. - Air Services.

Ivan Yates


3 Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the discussions, if any, she has had, or will have, with representatives of Ryanair or other carriers using Dublin Airport in the context of the proposed removal of the discount and rebates scheme on landing and departure charges with effect from 1999; and if her attention has been drawn to the recent announcement by Ryanair to switch the development of five new routes into Europe from Dublin to London in 1999. [26895/98]

I have discussed airport charges with the chief executive of Ryanair, Mr. Michael O'Leary. As I already stated in the Dáil, I have also had discussions on the matter with the chairman of Aer Rianta in the context of my regular meetings with him. I will continue to consult on this issue with the air carriers and with Aer Rianta in the months ahead.

I am aware that Aer Rianta has decided not to introduce a new cycle of discount schemes for airport charges at Dublin airport in January next. However, benefits from the 1997 and 1998 discount schemes will continue to accrue to air carriers until 2003 and 2004, respectively. I believe this represents a prudent interim position for Aer Rianta, pending further decisions on airport charges by me in due course.

The chairman of Aer Rianta has informed me that he has commissioned a study on the existing structure of airport charges levied by the company. Consultants are expected to submit a report before Christmas, to facilitate the board in developing comprehensive proposals on airport charges to be submitted to me in due course for regulatory approval. In considering any such proposals, I will take all relevant factors into account, including the impact any change in the level of charges would have on airlines and, consequently, on air travellers generally, and including also the prospects for achieving a postponement of the loss of duty free within the European Union.

I am aware that Ryanair has announced its intention to develop five new routes out of London next year. Under European Union regulations, European airlines are free to operate on any routes within Europe, in accordance with their own commercial judgment. While I have no statutory function in this regard, I will obviously continue to encourage all airlines to provide as many new services as possible from Irish airports.

Will the Minister accept she has a role in this regard, not only as a shareholder of Aer Rianta but also as the de facto regulator of landing charges? From her discussions last Saturday with Ryanair, does she agree that when the rebates are fully unwound the charge per departing passenger will rise from £4.31 to in excess of £8?

The last question concerned an appointment by the Minister. There is a number of carriers involved and would it not be a prudent measure to appoint a mediator, given Aer Rianta's reluctance to budge on the issue, pending the outcome of the duty free deliberations which will definitely have to be before the middle of next year? The airline business survey said that Dublin Airport was the most profitable airport in the world for passenger bases. Will the Minister agree that such an intervention is now urgent and timely?

I am troubled by the issue, which is clearly imminent and will not go away. At the same time, I want to be fair to all airlines. I have met Michael O'Leary both formally in my office and informally at my constituency clinic. He is a constituent of mine and is, therefore, entitled to come to my door, as is anyone. The question of the intervention——

Does he queue at the clinic?

Fair play to him.

That is right.

Or is there a queue?

Deputy Stagg is very welcome too.

It is well worth the wait.

He times his arrival well. As I said before in the House, Europe is also looking at this issue and they are reading about and having discussions on what they might regard as State aid for a particular airline. Over the years, a series of subsidies for airlines, depending on what year they started and what new customers they got, have grown in Aer Rianta. The study which will be received by Aer Rianta prior to Christmas should clear away much of the enveloping fog which has arisen over this issue. I hope we will be able to come to a solution, but it would have to be an equitable one.

I met both sides and I presented each other's figures to each side, because I thought there was fog surrounding this. However, I found there was not much fog.

In regard to the Minister's statement about EU rules and other EU airports, I put it to her that other UK and European airports are offering Ryanair, and any other carrier, £1 per passenger starting rates for landing and departing charges. The discount and rebate schemes, particularly in the UK, mean that we are now uncompetitive among the 47 airports used. Will the Minister look specifically at maintaining a moratorium on the present schemes until the duty free issue is resolved, which will be no later than June 1999? That would be a fair outcome which would not prejudice anyone's position subsequently. If Aer Rianta are saying they need the extra revenue to make up for the loss of duty free sales, and the campaign is won, then the whole pitch is changed.

The Deputy is right in essence. The whole pitch is changed if duty free sales are retained. I hope the Taoiseach and his counterparts come to agreement on that as they move forward.

Is the Minister passing the parcel?

I am not passing the parcel. There are too many parcels in my pouch. I would be prepared to consider the idea of a moratorium as suggested by the Deputy.

It would seem fair.

I hope the Deputy will not put that up to me next week. What I said is that I am prepared to consider it.