Issues Affecting the Aviation Sector: Discussion (Resumed)

We are dealing with issues affecting the aviation sector. I welcome our witnesses. We are joined by Mr. Eddie Wilson, chief executive officer, of Ryanair. I thank him for coming back before the committee a second time. This is an extremely important issue. We are also joined by Mr. Donal Moriarty, interim chief executive officer, and Mr. Reid Moody, chief strategy and planning officer, of Aer Lingus. I thank them for being with us virtually today.

Before commencing, I wish to explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards reference the witnesses may make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses physically present who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected pursuant to both the Constitution and the statute by absolute privilege. However, today's witnesses are giving their evidence remotely from a place outside the parliamentary precincts and as such may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present does. Witnesses are again reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to the identified person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Members are also reminded that committee meetings should conclude within two hours in any one day. The committee is scheduled to sit twice today for a cumulative time of just under four hours. Therefore, members are asked to rotate in and out of the meeting when they have finished asking their questions. With this in mind, I propose Deputy Joe Carey to act as temporary Chair, as he did previously, for the part of today's meeting where I will be rotating out of the meeting to abide by the two-hour rule. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I call Mr. Wilson to make his opening statement.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I thank the Chairman for having me back today. Unfortunately since we here on the last occasion on 7 October nothing has changed regarding aviation policy and the strangulation of this industry. The green list system has been a complete and utter disaster for this economy and despite the promises that we are going to adopt a new system, nothing has happened. We have cut ourselves off from Europe. Before anyone comes back and talks about the traffic light system in terms of what other EU countries are doing, this morning in Germany, France, Sweden, Belgium and Spain, one can travel anywhere within the European Union. There is no restriction on flights whatsoever. A direct consequence of this strangulation of our industry is that the Ryanair bases in Cork and Shannon, which we had flagged explicitly based on this because we had no bookings, have now closed and the question is whether they will reopen next summer. That could have been averted. I find it extraordinary that after coming to this committee on the last occasion we did not get one call from either the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton. The closure of our bases in Cork and Shannon could have been averted or minimised in some way. We did not even get a telephone call from them.

The aviation task force has been reported on since 7 July, more than four months ago, and nothing has been done about it.

People from Ryanair, Aer Lingus, the airports and the leasing companies put in their good time last June and July to put together a report, and it is inexplicable that this Minister has done nothing about it whatsoever.

The market update that I gave the committee the last time I attended has deteriorated. Airlines across Europe are in a bad place. The two airlines that are represented at the committee today are well capitalised, but what is happening is that there will be smaller fleets within Europe next year. Ireland is bottom of the list at the moment, because we are closed for business. Having lost this summer, for summer 2021, nothing has been done to attract business, on which 140,000 people in aviation and 325,000 people in tourism depend for their jobs.

We are calling on the Minister today to do some very simple things, and we have been doing so for months now. The EU traffic light system must be implemented today. We must stop waiting around. There are already countries that are green and amber, and they should be opened straight away. For example, the Greek Islands, the Canary Islands, Germany, Sweden, and parts of Italy could be open today. We do not know what the delay is. As it stands, Government policy is to say that nobody should fly anywhere in and off this small island economy. A key part of this EU traffic light system is that there should be regionalisation, and unless the Government adopts it, it will be useless. Countries should not be cut off in full, so that one can still fly to some places, for example, the Canary Islands, when one may not fly to Madrid, as it is part of Spain.

The aviation task force must be implemented. Why is it still sitting there and why have the Minister for Transport and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, not done anything about it?

We want consultation. There are many things happening at the moment on which none of the airlines and stakeholders are being consulted. When has one ever heard of Ryanair, Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, all saying exactly the same thing?

This industry is in decline, and we lost this summer due to Government policy failures and advice not to travel. I note that this morning that the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, stated that Christmas travel should be suspended. I am sorry, but being worried is not good enough for us. We need data, and there are no data that state that air travel is not safe. It is the safest place where people can congregate, due to a combination of 100% compliance in the wearing of face masks, high efficiency particulate air filters being used, and policies and procedures from the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC, being followed.

We need to get the balance right in this economy, which means that we need to be able to preserve jobs and protect those who are most vulnerable, and we should be able to do this. NPHET got it wrong on care homes, meat factories, face masks, and on travel throughout this summer when it should have been concentrating on increasing capacity and getting a properly functioning track and trace system.

The two points I wish to make to the Minister are as follows. The EU traffic light system must be implemented with regionalisation, and it must be done today. We are closed when all the other economies within Europe are open. Second, the Minister must implement the aviation task force, which has not been done to date. This includes in particular the incentives to get airlines to return to Ireland, especially for summer 2021, including the specific recommendation for the rebate of airport charges for a period of three years, which would apply to all airlines within the industry.

I thank Mr. Wilson. Dr. Tony Holohan and NPHET will be appearing before the committee next week, and we will put the points raised by the witness to them. I now call on Mr. Moriarty to make his opening statement.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I thank the committee for having the opportunity to speak before it again. Aer Lingus has previously outlined, both in July at the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response and again at our appearance before this committee on 7 October, the catastrophic effects that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have on the global aviation sector.

The committee is aware of how important aviation is for the Irish economy and its prospects for future recovery. The members all know that the international businesses that headquarter in Ireland, that manufacture in Ireland, that carry out critical research and development in Ireland, and that secure investment from their boards for Ireland do so because Ireland is a connected, progressive, business-friendly country. Connectivity is key. We are an island nation, and that connectivity can never be taken for granted. It is a key element of foreign inward investment and in helping our domestic businesses to grow and develop.

Now is the time to put a framework in place so that all businesses can plan for 2021. Fortunately, there are elements of that framework already in existence. Crucially, we know that air travel is safe. Aer Lingus and other airlines have put in place measures in line with European Union Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, and ECDC guidelines that very effectively mitigate the risk of transmission during travel. Indeed, a recent study by the International Air Transport Association, IATA, indicated that risk of transmission on board an aircraft is as low as one in 27 million. Second, the traffic light system introduced by the European Council recently is an important step towards ensuring greater harmonisation for safer travel across Europe, and I will address that in more detail later. Third, new and more effective means of testing are being used globally, and their introduction into this country can increase the level of safe international travel.

I now turn to the decision of the European Council on the traffic light system. The decision at the European Council on 13 October aims to co-ordinate the approach to free movement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The wider aviation sector has been somewhat critical of the ultimate decision that emerged from the European Council. The Council recommended a co-ordinated approach to free movement and set out some guidance for member states, but it falls considerably short of what was originally proposed by the European Commission on 4 September, which was to encourage a restart of travel through effective co-ordination and proportionate, predictable and non-discriminatory measures.

Despite this assessment of the European Council decision, Aer Lingus has constructively shared an implementation approach with the Department of Transport that could support safely increasing international travel. Although it has not yet been published, Aer Lingus understands that the Government approach to implementing the European traffic light system will involve a number of elements. First, persons arriving from green list locations can enter the State without the requirement to restrict movement or undergo testing. Second, people arriving from orange-listed locations should have the option to disapply the requirement to restrict movements if they have negative test result of an appropriate standard done pre-departure. Third, people coming from red-listed countries should have the option to disapply the requirement to restrict movements following a negative test result taken five days after arrival. We understand that that is the Government's proposal, although it has not been published yet.

We would describe the proposed approach as a fairly tentative and moderately positive step forward, but it urgently needs to evolve and move to something quite different. Aer Lingus is actively engaging with the Government and will seek to influence the implementation of an appropriate solution before 8 November 2020, which I understand is the date the Government has in mind.

Aer Lingus notes that the intention is to allow travel from orange-coded countries and areas without a requirement to restrict movements on arrival if a pre-departure test is taken. In our view, it is critical that if pre-departure tests are required for passengers travelling from orange-coded countries, it has to be based on a rapid, affordable antigen testing solution. Only a rapid antigen testing solution will facilitate a meaningful increase in safe international travel. For passengers coming from high-risk or red countries, the European Council decision specifically enables the replacement of quarantine and movement restrictions by the introduction of a testing regime.

Aer Lingus also welcomes the exemption in the European Council decision for passengers with an essential function from the requirement to undertake restricted movement or testing while exercising this essential function, and this includes those in critical occupations, students and persons travelling for imperative family or business reasons. This exemption will allow passengers with an essential function to travel without restriction, be that a test or a movement restriction.

Aer Lingus believes that following the initial implementation of the measures, the fortnightly review process, which we understand the Government intends to apply, should quickly lead to a streamlining of the processes to allow a meaningful increase in safe international travel. This streamlining should look like a limited form of random rapid testing for passengers arriving from higher risk orange-coded countries, and a pre-departure testing for countries classified as red.

Aer Lingus believes that through the adoption of a co-ordinated and multilayered risk mitigation approach the level of safe international travel can be increased. The multiple layers involve pre-travel health declarations; mandatory use of face masks; enhanced cleaning on aircraft and in the airport environment; the use of state-of-the-art air filtration technology on board the aircraft; the use of the e-passenger locator forms, ePLF; the use of the Covid tracker app and its integration with similar apps in other countries; and agreed international travel protocols such as the European traffic light system. It is based on this range of risk mitigation measures, which are already in place, that we believe aviation requires a screening standard of testing, not a diagnostic standard of testing. In summary, Ireland must implement the European Council’s decision in such a way that the traffic light system delivers a meaningful contribution to increasing safe international travel.

I will turn briefly to testing and rapid testing. First, I draw the committee's attention to the International Air Transport Association, IATA, study which indicates that the risk of on-board transmission is one in 27 million. So far in 2020, 1.2 billion passengers have travelled by air and IATA says there are only 44 cases of Covid-19 being transmitted on board an aircraft in that period of time. Second, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC, notes that in the current epidemiological situation it does not recommend that passengers should be systematically tested when crossing internal or external administrative borders. I also point to the recent data released by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, on 21 October, which highlighted that four cases were reported in the previous 14 days that were travel related. There were 80,000 passengers in that period of time, which represents 0.05% of cases in that period. The evidence, therefore, is that international travel is simply not a vector of transmission for Covid-19. Interestingly, the HPSC report published on 21 October has not been published since. We believe the continued publication of the report would be a helpful statistic and it should continue. I do not understand why it has been discontinued.

All this highlights the effectiveness of the measures introduced by the-----

Excuse me, Mr. Moriarty. Do you have much more of your presentation to make in terms of the time?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

About three minutes.

That is fine.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

All that I have said highlights the effectiveness of the measures introduced by the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, and the ECDC.

I will turn now to some specifics on antigen testing and why we believe it is the route forward. Italy has recently introduced a testing requirement for arrivals from high-risk or red-coded countries that includes antigen testing as an appropriate standard. On 18 October last, the French minister for transport announced plans to introduce rapid antigen testing at airports on departure to countries such as the US and on arrival from red-zone countries. On 13 October, Germany's Robert Koch Institute, RKI, recommended antigen testing to complement existing molecular PCR tests. Several European airports, including Milan, Rome, Frankfurt, Heathrow and Paris, are in the process of equipping themselves for antigen testing in the future. Alitalia is already using it and Lufthansa has announced plans to do so. Similarly, Austrian Airlines has recently announced a trial programme for antigen testing. It is clear that antigen testing, at a screening standard, is becoming prevalent, and the solution in terms of facilitating international travel.

I will briefly mention regional operations, in Cork and Shannon airports in particular. Aer Lingus has published its 2021 summer schedule, and there are extensive operations planned from both Cork and Shannon airports. However, the easing of international travel restrictions is assumed in the publication of that summer schedule for 2021. Urgent progress along the lines I have just outlined must be made in the appropriate introduction of a traffic light system and testing regime. We have highlighted these issues repeatedly to this committee and to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response since July. We have referred to the recommendations of the aviation recovery task force, published on 7 July, which have not been implemented. In our view, all these changes must be implemented now.

I will conclude by referring to the Government's resilience and recovery plan. It says that there is a need to keep airports and travel routes open and that Ireland depends on airports for supply chains and economic activity. It says there is a need for travel for essential reasons, and that significant employment and other direct economic impacts result from aviation. It also states that aviation’s strategic importance underpins tourism and business generally, and that rebuilding the national economy has a critical dependence on aviation. That is what the resilience and recovery plan says, but we do not have any evidence of policy decisions and actions being taken in pursuit of that plan.

Our economy needs certainty about connectivity. This must be prioritised urgently for 2021. Businesses and the economy in general are critically dependent on it. I thank the committee for the opportunity to make these remarks.

Thank you, Mr. Moriarty. You are probably aware that representatives of Aeroporti di Roma will be appearing before the committee this afternoon to discuss rapid testing at the airports. That should shed some light on the matter.

I now move to questions from the members. Deputy Darren O'Rourke has seven minutes and he must abide by that.

I thank the witnesses. I will start with a question for both Ryanair and Aer Lingus. Since we last met there has been some progress on the traffic light system and some commitment regarding pre-departure testing, but not much movement. However, there has been significant backward movement in the spread of Covid-19 across the Continent. In a best case scenario and if everything Mr. Wilson and Mr. Moriarty prescribed this morning happened tomorrow, what will the aviation landscape resemble in the next six and 12 months in Ireland and across Europe, and further if they wish, and what are the implications for their operations in terms of staff and commitment to the sector in Ireland?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I thank the Deputy. There are two distinct phases in this. One must have a basis for travelling, and in Ireland we do not have that at present. The Deputy is correct that the situation has got progressively worse in Europe. However, at least most of those countries are well positioned for when confidence may return. We have not even got to the starting blocks in Ireland because we are prevaricating all the time as to what we are going to do. We must not forget that official Government policy for the citizens of this nation, since March, has been not to fly. What it has done is put an anchor around the neck of airlines in and out of this country and this has resulted, unfortunately, in Cork and Shannon closing as Ryanair bases. If there is going to be an upturn here, the real work starts in convincing people to travel. It will be easier to convince people to travel on short haul rather than on long haul. However, when that comes about, we will have to start that hard work, but there will be fewer aircraft and less capacity.

To what degree-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Let me finish. This country is saying that we are not open for business, so it is not even going to be considered. We have-----

My question relates to the best-case scenario.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The best-case scenario is to give us a fighting chance to come back and start selling tickets again, but one cannot sell tickets if the organs of this State say people should not be flying.

Has Mr. Wilson a sense of pent-up demand?

Mr. Eddie Wilson


Whether it is visiting friends and relatives, business or tourism and hospitality, there is obviously restricted opportunity to do anything if one is travelling abroad or coming to Ireland.

Is there any sense of a pent-up demand and, if so, where is it relative to other years?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

There is. We can see this in other countries. During the week, for example, the UK lifted its restrictions on the Canary Islands, Crete and Denmark, and bookings went up tenfold overnight. People want to do the right thing and we have scared the life out of people to comply with stuff on an unscientific basis when it comes to air travel. I believe if that were to change, then people will travel. The difficulty for Ireland is that we are currently at the bottom of the queue because other countries are already encouraging airlines like Ryanair to put capacity in place for next summer, and we are still faffing around here.

Okay. I put the same question to Mr. Moriarty about a best-case scenario and the opportunities for 2021.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

It is entirely premature to talk about best-case scenarios. We need to get to the first step, which is the implementation of the traffic light system in an appropriate way that facilitates international travel. I agree with Mr. Wilson's comments. The willingness of people to travel will be there but the toxicity in respect of travel has to be removed. That toxicity and that narrative have been largely delivered by policy over the past seven or eight months. That has to change fundamentally. Second, the implementation of practical steps to facilitate travel has to happen. The demand will follow, but it is entirely too premature for me to be talking about a best-case scenario when we have not got to that stage.

Does Mr. Moriarty believe that his case his helped by coming here this morning and saying that there is a one in 27 million chance of transmission of the virus onboard an aircraft? That is completely not credible. I have looked at the IATA evidence, which indicates that it is not possible to give an exact estimation and that the figure is only based on published reports. Is it credible for Mr. Moriarty to come and make statements of that nature? Does it not do a disservice to the role that aviation plays in the transmission of the virus?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I refer to a report published by IATA. I can send on the report to the committee separately, but that is what is says.

I have it. The report also says that there is no way to establish an exact tally of possible flight-associated cases. Does it not say this also?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I am not-----

It does. I can tell Mr. Moriarty that it does.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I believe I have accurately reflected what the report says. I would also refer the committee to the HSBC data about the low level of travel-related cases of transmission on board flights. The Deputy may be distrustful of what IATA says, but it is an agency of the State and it is producing the data.

My point is that it is important to recognise the role played by aviation in the spread of the virus. We cannot be in denial of the role it plays and it is important to have an honest conversation about it. To suggest that there is a one in 27 million chance of transmission is completely incredible and is not based on any sound science. It does a disservice to the quality of the conversation we are having. I think it should be recognised as such.

I thank Deputy O'Rourke. I shall now turn to my own questions, which I put to both witnesses. Mr. Moriarty made reference earlier to what he believes the Government will implement under the new traffic light system from 8 November, namely, that persons arriving from green list countries could go unrestricted without undergoing any test, that arrivals from orange list locations should have the option to apply to have unrestricted movement if they have tested negative prior to departure and that passengers from red list countries could be restricted for five days but would have free movement on receiving a negative test result thereafter. Do the witnesses believe that if that system is implemented by the Government, with a rapid antigen test, it would be the panacea to ensure that the aviation sector can recover? I put this question to Mr. Wilson first.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I do not think it will be a panacea. In our comments on the original drafting of the traffic light system, our preference was to see people from orange and green countries being allowed to travel unrestricted. Anything is better than quarantine. The logistics of testing, particularly at airports, mean that it is a non-starter. People are not going to travel to airports for tests, especially if they have already paid their fares, on the basis that they may not be able to get on an aircraft. People must look at the human behaviours. Anything is better than the blanket ban we have at the moment. While the traffic light system is really about not having the free movement of people in the European Union for work, visiting friends and relatives, etc., it is important to remember - sometimes we forget this - that regardless of the traffic light system and the testing scenarios, people in Germany, Italy, France and Spain will continue to travel because they have land borders. It will not be a panacea. Anything is better than a quarantine.

If this particular procedure is implemented by the Government on 8 November, will Ryanair have extra flights in the air flying in and out of Ireland?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

If there is no regionalisation, and currently there are very few green regions left-----


Mr. Eddie Wilson

-----it should be green and orange, it is not going to turbo start air travel. It would be a start, but it must have regionalisation and in preference it must have green and amber countries for unrestricted travel.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

It is not a panacea. We have described it as an initial step, which is positive in that it provides a roadmap for the removal of the 14-day restriction on movements. Our view is that it needs to evolve and that there is a need to establish rapid, affordable antigen testing as both the testing standard and the testing solution on a screening basis. There is a further need to evolve to a limited form of random, rapid testing for passengers from higher-risk orange Covid countries and regions, and a pre-departure rapid test for those from red countries. We believe that is the solution. That testing standard needs to be on the basis of an antigen test.

Aer Lingus announced its summer schedule, which includes flights from Shannon and Cork airports. The Shannon-Heathrow route was to be restored. Will Mr. Moriarty tell the committee when that route will be restored? There are to be transatlantic routes to Boston and John F. Kennedy International Airport. Will Mr Moriarty give the committee an update as to where Aer Lingus is on that? Is the Aer Lingus base in Shannon Airport secure with regard to cabin crew and so on? In the context of these two measures being introduced, where does Mr. Moriarty see the landscape of Shannon and Cork airports over the next year?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

With Shannon Airport, we had ambition to recommence our Shannon-Heathrow service in December. We cannot now do that. It was on the basis of what movement had taken place some time ago with the easing of travel restrictions. Our plan is to recommence operations in April on the Shannon-Heathrow, Shannon-Boston and Shannon-JFK routes. That is our plan but, as I said in my remarks, it is dependent on the significant easing of restrictions contemplated by the traffic light system, which have to be appropriately implemented. We are very keen to restore those services and we plan to do so.

What would encourage Aer Lingus to bring the Shannon-Heathrow route back as quickly as possible?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

It would be exactly what I have said. We are assuming that what I have said about easing of restrictions is going to happen. We make that assumption in the publication of our summer 2021 schedule. That is what has to happen. We plan to operate-----

What would Aer Lingus require in order to restore the Shannon-Heathrow route in December?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

There is nothing that can be done at this point to make that happen. It is too late, unfortunately. That is something we had asked for in terms of revisions to green lists a number of months ago. The aviation recovery task force has been asking for that since July. As Mr. Wilson said earlier, those recommendations have not been implemented four months later so, unfortunately, in terms of an earlier resumption of the Shannon-Heathrow service, that is now not possible.

That is very disappointing. This question is for Mr. Wilson. In terms of restoring the Ryanair bases at Shannon and Cork, do the new measures that will come in on 8 November give him confidence in that area? What is required to ensure that Ryanair can restore its permanent bases and proper complement of flights at both Shannon and Cork?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Before answering that question directly, we will have, and not just in terms of the based activity, zero flights from Cork and Shannon Airports from 4 November until 12 December at least. Can the Chairman imagine that the second city in Ireland will have no Ryanair flights in or out, not just the based activity? It is that bad. As Mr. Moriarty said, if we have not got a basis to fly then nobody will book and if nobody is going to book, we cannot fly. What I really worry about is that the Government will fudge this and try to implement some traffic light system that will put us at a disadvantage in terms of what other European countries are doing, and I do not have a lot of faith in that.

In the limited time-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

While we have some flights on sale for next summer at the moment, there is a reasonable chance that these two bases may not open.

In terms of what is due to come in on 8 November, is Mr. Wilson saying, even with that, Ryanair will have no flights out of either Shannon or Cork? What date did he mention?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

From 4 November until 12 December there will not be a single-----

Even with this proposed traffic light system being introduced by the Government.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We do not know what is in it. We do not know whether it will involve regions. We do not know whether it will include amber countries. We do not know what testing it will put in place.

What would Mr. Wilson need to see from the Government by 8 November to keep the flights at both Cork and Shannon?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We have the same difficulties as Aer Lingus on this in that we have to have a plan. We have to have time to sell the flights. We cannot simply put them back on sale. The aircraft plans have been made. If the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was to come back today and say that he will allow unrestricted travel for green and amber countries and regionalisation, we would have a look at that but he would have to do that.

How would Ryanair regionalise in an Irish context when ours is such a small country?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I am sorry I did not-----

As Ireland is such a small country, how would Ryanair be able to regionalise?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I am talking about flying out. One could fly to the Canaries but perhaps not to Madrid. The ECDC map comes out every Tuesday and it shows the regions-----

It is regionalisation in terms of flights out to other countries, not here in Ireland.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Yes. Ireland, for ECDC map purposes, is classified as one region.

I hope those measures will be in the Government's plan on 8 November because it would be hugely disappointing if Ryanair were to cease flights out of Shannon or Cork because they are vital for connectivity.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We want to fly out of Shannon and Cork. If the Government implemented its own aviation recovery task force reports and put in green and amber lists, we would certainly re-examine at what we could do for Shannon and Cork.

I thank Mr. Wilson. I call Deputy Crowe.

It was a devastating blow to County Clare and Shannon that in the same week the traffic light system was announced, the Ryanair base at Shannon closed. I would largely agree with Mr. Wilson regarding the regionalisation argument. The Covid-19 figures are released around teatime every evening. When the ECDC talks about regionalising risk, it seems, and I made this point yesterday, that it is looking at countries more than regions. As far as I can see, there is only one region, which is Calabria, in the south of Italy, to which one can fly and Ryanair is certainly not flying from Shannon to Calabria. If we were to look at the figures provided last night and if Tipperary and Wicklow had airports, their incidence rates have dropped below 150. There is another metric where a region has to have a positivity rate of 4% or lower, but on that metric alone, if we looked at better regionalisation for collecting data, parts of Ireland would be creeping back to levels which would be deemed orange. We need the European Commission and the Department of Transport to urgently clarify the regions Europe is using to designate those regions.

I ask Mr. Moriarty to take up the point on which the Chairman concluded. I hear what he is saying about the uncertainty relating to orange and red routes. Both witnesses were very clear about that but how much of their decision to not fly from Shannon is based on the traffic light system and how much is based on a commercial decision? Could they apportion that out? There has been rigorous questioning from various members. If we get to 8 November and other measures are brought in or we see commonality across members states, they are still saying that they will not be flying until next April. How much of their decision on that would they apportion to corporate and commercial reasoning?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

The commercial is absolutely linked to the ability to fly and having the environment in terms of easing of restrictions to allow us to fly. I will ask my colleague, Mr. Moody, to comment on that more specifically.

Mr. Reid Moody

Everything that we do at the minute is based on economic and commercial viability. They are completely linked to the traffic light system and therefore the demand picture and, ultimately, the capacity that we will put on the network. For the sequence to happen consumer confidence needs to be restored. For that to happen, there needs to be adoption of the traffic light system in addition to full adoption of the aviation recovery task force recommendations. If, as a result of that, confidence in the market starts to build, as Mr. Wilson said, we will look at the demand and adjust capacity in accordance with that demand but the sequence has to start and at the minute the sequence is not starting.

If Aer Lingus is not committed to flying from Shannon between now and April, under what circumstances would it review that? I believe one can book flights from Shannon to Heathrow from 7 December onwards on the website. First, what does Aer Lingus need to happen? Second, what is Aer Lingus's intentions for its aircraft based in Shannon between now and the time they will be airborne again?

Mr. Reid Moody

In the next couple of days, we will be finalising our winter schedule. That will see the removal of Shannon-Heathrow flights from We will be revising the full schedule for the rest of the network. That will be updated in the coming days and it will show the removal of the Heathrow flight rights through to the end of February. Unless there is a significant sea change in that demand picture I do not see the flying from Shannon situation changing before the end of February. We are starting to put aircraft into longer-term storage. Most of that is moving to Spain because of the arid conditions there versus the more-----

Can Mr. Moody give commitments as to what will happen those aircraft? Are they to come back to Shannon, particularly transatlantic aircraft? Also, what can Mr. Moody say to the Shannon-based staff of his airline today in light of the April date he is now flagging?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I will address that. We communicate with our staff on a more than weekly basis. We have local sessions with them also so they are well aware of the constraints and challenges we have in terms of our winter operation and our plans for the summer schedule.

In terms of the aircraft, we are planning to resume operations on the Boston and JFK routes for summer 2021. There will be no change in terms of deployment of aircraft. That is our planned schedule and it is built in but as I said, it is critically dependent upon the environment being right for us to-----

Would Mr. Moriarty consider a stopover facility in these months to ensure that he is satisfying the needs of a customer base in the mid-west and-or in Cork?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

The Shannon stopover concept is something we are not inclined to revive.

Deputy Joe Carey took the Chair.

My next question is for Mr. Wilson. We have heard his traffic light system argument. We have heard him talk about Ireland being an outlier. There are 28 European Union countries, four of which have a policy Ryanair likes, so 24 of them, including Ireland, have a policy Ryanair does not like.

What circumstances does Mr. Wilson need to see a normal return and the reopening of Ryanair's Shannon base?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Will the Deputy clarify the 24 countries we do not like? I am not quite clear on that.

There are 24 regimes relating to orange and red countries. Mr. Wilson referenced four countries, namely, Spain, Italy, France and Germany. He likes the regime they have in treating red and orange countries but he does not agree with the other regimes, including Ireland.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

There is no traffic light system at the moment.

What would bring Ryanair back to Shannon? What circumstances does Mr. Wilson need to change?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I have already made that clear. It is when the official Government policy of this country is not to demonise air travel and open it again in a responsible way. We had a wasted summer here. We have seen the casualties already in Cork and Shannon and in reduced traffic out of Dublin, which means people are not willing to travel when their Governments tell them not to do so. We accept that where there are red countries, particularly within the EU, there will have to be some testing regime. We will have to restore travel to green and amber countries, however, and then we would be of a mind to look at restoring those where there may well be some demand. In the meantime, however, the tide is going out further all the time because other countries are looking for those aircraft and we are making decisions already for next summer.

Most people in this room accept and have worked individually and collectively from the point of view that there is a requirement for a framework. Everyone accepts that. We have all asked individual and collective questions on when we can get antigen testing in operation if that is up to specification so we do not take away from community testing. Most people are in that scenario. We accept how difficult it has been for the aviation sector and the absolute necessity to ensure we have an aviation sector when we get beyond this.

When we talk about the likes of Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Ireland at the minute, we are dealing with places that are either introducing new restrictions or have already done so on the basis that we have a huge amount of community transmission. That will obviously impact flying now. I accept we need the framework up and running. The European Commission and the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, appeared before the committee yesterday. There is talk, obviously, of these European Union Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, and ECDC protocols which will be in operation and that would relate to testing. There is no surety, however, that we have any level of agreement across Europe that we will have anything close to harmonisation. That is before we talk about the difficulties here as regards Brexit and the fact we obviously must get an all-Ireland response but there also needs to be some element of a deal or harmonisation with the British Government, which is very difficult at the minute. We all accept the Irish Government needs to move as soon as possible. That is accepted.

When we talk about Aer Lingus and Ryanair we are dealing with two major airlines which have already spoken from the point of view of seeking to have this framework up and running. They are not necessarily looking for State money at this point. They are talking about rebates with regard to the future. We hope that when we talk about travel next summer, we are also talking about a period when we will probably have the outworking of a vaccine. None of this, however, is absolutely sure.

I want to put this question to Mr. Wilson. We also had travel agents before the committee, particularly travel agents who have block booked and who stated they were having incredible difficulty in getting moneys back from Ryanair. There is all this talk about dealing directly with customers but in some cases these were block bookings for school groups and such. Could we get that sort of problem resolved? I have a further question after that.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Sorry, I do not know which question the Deputy wants answered. Which one does he want answered first?

Mr. Wilson has stated what he wants. We all know there is a need for a framework. Mr. Wilson has been incredibly clear that he needs the Government to move. The first question is on the difficulty regarding harmonisation across Europe.

My second question concerns the travel agents we had in before the committee who spoke about the fact they and individual consumers have had incredible difficulty in getting money back for flights that did not fly at an earlier stage in the pandemic.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I keep saying with regard to harmonisation at the moment, and I do not know how many times I have to say it, that regardless of the traffic light system, outside of this jurisdiction at the moment a person can fly to any country in Europe, even those that are affected now, because they have land borders, not unlike Northern Ireland with the Republic. We are cutting ourselves off from the rest of Europe. I do not think people here get it and it is going to get worse because there will be fewer airline seats in Europe when this comes back. There are going to be fewer airline seats throughout the world. Our policy at the moment is to wander around in the darkness and say we might be doing something and we are having an expert group and all sorts of things rather than doing something.

We need connectivity on this island for this economy and if we are not going to have it, we had better be honest with the 325,000 people in tourism for next summer. They are going to lose next summer over complete inaction from this Minister. This Minister has had a report. He has all the answers in 12 recommendations and I do not know why he is not here today to say when he is going to implement them. Is he going to be honest with the 140,000 people in this industry or the 325,000 people in the tourism industry who are likely to lose their jobs next year? We will be able to put our aircraft elsewhere. It is the most moveable of assets. We do not want to do that.

I accept that. It is what Mr. Wilson said earlier. We need movement as quickly as possible at State level even if we cannot be absolutely sure of getting harmonisation across Europe. That is okay. Could Mr. Wilson give me the answer with regard to travel agents?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

One does not need to worry about harmonisation. One can fly today. It just takes the will of this Government to do something. The will of this Government is that we have to control our own destiny in this.

I accept we need movement. Can Mr. Wilson give me the answer on the travel agents?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Ryanair has no commercial relationship with travel agents. When all the cancellations came through as a result of Covid-19, we put in a procedure because under law we have the liability to the passenger. Passengers who bought their flights through travel agents, and in many cases have been ripped off by travel agents because they add on to our fares and the charges for seats and bags, can get their money back directly. If the travel agents have a group of people, they can sign a waiver to say the travel agents can get it. Many travel agents have availed of this but we have no commercial relationship with them. The people who want their money back are getting their money back. There is a process there and the travel agents need to engage with it and people will get their money back. We have a responsibility to the passenger and not to the travel agent whom we have no commercial relationship with.

There are still difficulties but I accept Mr. Wilson's answer with regard to the waiver.

I will quickly move to Mr. Moriarty. What information did Aer Lingus get with regard to the initial period when it would not sign the X and O forms for those people who were on the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS? Did it get instruction from the Department of Social Protection? What exactly was it?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I take it the Deputy's question relates to the temporary wage subsidy scheme rather than the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. In the period since the TWSS was brought in and up to the point of its expiry on 31 August, we complied with the direction we got from the Department and from the Revenue Commissioners. That included the way in which we were to complete the forms to which the Deputy refers. We completed them in exactly the way we were directed to do so by the Department.

Moving on to my questions, I wish to direct my first set of questions to Mr. Wilson of Ryanair. Today's news from Ryanair that it will not fly any flights from Shannon or Cork airports from 4 November until 12 December is extremely disappointing. When Ryanair made this decision, had it communicated this decision to the Shannon Airport Authority and to Ryanair's workers? Are there any circumstances under which Ryanair could review this position?

It is my understanding that last weekend there were more than 100 people on the Shannon to Stansted flight. What makes it sustainable for Ryanair to fly that route? That represents a significant improvement on the number of passengers travelling from Shannon to Stansted. At what point does Ryanair say this is economical and it can fly? This is going to have a major, devastating impact on the economy of the mid-west, from a business point of view in particular.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Just to make one thing clear, when we made the decision about the based aircraft, that affects the pilots and cabin crew who are based in Shannon and in Cork. These additional cutbacks clearly do not affect those staff because these are flights that originate from London or other bases elsewhere. It is entirely due to demand, however. The reason there is no demand is that the Government is saying, "Don't fly". The Government has not opened up the green list. That is the only option. Today it says all of Europe and the UK is closed. One cannot operate an airline without passengers. While there may well be some flights that are better booked than others, I can tell the Acting Chairman that the bookings out of Cork and Shannon are absolutely shocking. If something is to be done for those airports, it needs to be done now by the Minister. We put a lot of time into this. We went down and met all of the politicians in Cork. We met airport management and our staff. We telegraphed this very clearly for more than six weeks and we did not get one phone call from the Government about what it could do to avert it. We are still flailing around in the darkness as to what we are going to do. One cannot run an airline without demand. At its most basic, we are an island nation and we must be able to say to people that they will not be demonised for travelling. We are responsible in this industry, we do everything that is risk-based and we are not going to make money-----

From 12 December on, what traffic volume does Mr. Wilson foresee through Shannon Airport?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Some of that traffic may come back from other non-based activity because there may well be traffic for Christmas. However, reading this morning's newspapers and NPHET's comments, which have no scientific basis, they are now saying people should not travel for that because they are very worried. As I said earlier, being worried is not good enough; we want to see the data. The data are there that airline travel itself is safe and we need a framework as to what countries and regions to balance the risk. Life has to go on. We have got to look after the most vulnerable and we have got to be able to have a functioning economy. As an island economy without any connectivity, we do not have a lot of hope on that so I hope the Government will do something about this today.

Turning to Mr. Moriarty and Aer Lingus, the Heathrow route is of strategic importance to our region and we have been missing it since last March. There was conflicting evidence given between him and Mr. Moody. He gave February as a possible return date for that particular route whereas Mr. Moriarty said April.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I do not think that there was-----

Can they clarify that? Are there any circumstances under which they can see an earlier return of that vital connectivity?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I do not think that there was a contradiction. What I said was we plan to operate it as part of our summer schedule and our summer schedule is planned from April. That is the normal date from the airline industry perspective. Mr. Moody may wish to address the specific point.

Mr. Reid Moody

The reason I mentioned February was purely that it is the next planning horizon that I have based the most recent schedule on, so there is no difference there in any of the information between myself and Mr. Moriarty.

I would like to update the committee as well. As of last night we have communicated to Cork Airport that we will reduce frequency on Cork to Heathrow as well. Again, to echo Mr. Wilson's comments, the demand outlook is so weak that we have no other choice but to reduce frequencies.

I offer sincere congratulations to Mr. Seán Doyle on his appointment as head of British Airways. He is working with Aer Lingus's parent group AIG at the moment and is a very proud son of Youghal. I wish the new acting CEO the best of luck.

Mr. Wilson is probably aware that I gave a significant presentation at Cork Airport when he visited us about my concerns. A reference we have heard a lot today from the representatives of the aviation sector is the toxicity around flying and people's attitude to it, particularly around short-haul flights. I am incredibly concerned about the attitude people have towards aviation because 120,000 jobs were fully supported by this industry prior to the onset of Covid-19. The witnesses have said a great deal about demand and that is obviously king when it comes to providing flights out of Cork Airport, which is absolutely critical to the entire province of Munster. Shannon Airport is very important as well.

I am very concerned to hear some of the statements made by Mr. Wilson regarding engagement by senior representatives from Government. The representatives of the Government parties will feed that back. It is not good enough because if what he is saying is true, it has cost jobs and flights out of Cork Airport, which I am incredibly concerned about. I am also very concerned to hear that Aer Lingus will reduce its Cork to Heathrow capacity, which is the major link Cork has to airports internationally. We are fighting hard to hold on to the flights we have left and it is important that the public understands just how serious this is.

My first question is for Aer Lingus. When do Mr. Moriarty and Mr. Moody foresee some degree of normality returning to its transatlantic passenger traffic? It is important. There is a very problematic geopolitical situation there now but when do they see normality coming back to transatlantic travel, which is important to tourism in Ireland.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Clearly, transatlantic travel will not be restored by the adoption of the traffic light system but the approach of a pre-departure test as a standard for facilitating traffic within the EU is a model that could be applied to traffic to and from North America. We would very much advocate that engagement happen with the US and Canadian authorities-----

I apologise for interrupting Mr. Moriarty but is any engagement ongoing between the European Commission and representatives from the US and Canada, to his knowledge?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I am aware that there is some contact. We need to remember that Ireland is not in the Schengen area, so we have a slightly different regime with respect to traffic between Ireland and the US. There needs to be bilateral engagement, therefore, between the Irish Government and the US authorities to establish a safe travel corridor. The basis for doing so is similar to the one I outlined earlier, based upon a pre-departure test regime that facilitates traffic. Ireland is somewhat uniquely positioned to benefit from the relationships we have with the US. We have customs and border protection, CBP, facilities in Dublin and Shannon airports and that gives us a significant advantage in being able to have these safety and health technical conversations with the US authorities.

The Chairman has put a lot of work into trying to get a representative from NPHET to come before the committee and I understand the chief medical officer, CMO, may appear before us very soon. As the two key airlines in the State, it is important I ask the representatives what message would they like this committee to convey to the CMO when he appears before us. Perhaps Mr. Wilson might like to answer that one first.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

What we have is this drip-drip on airline travel. We always hear about the data but travel has been demonised. We were told throughout the summer that if people did not travel abroad, everything would be fine and, as we now know, it was driven by domestic factors and Government policy failures on track and trace and increasing capacity. I would say to NPHET that if it is going to have an opinion on aviation, maybe it should look at what the experts outside this country say.

NPHET could look to what is being said by the US Department of Defense, the Boeing Company, the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC. For some reason, however, it is ignoring all that. We saw that on 1 July when people were advised not to travel, which was not in line with what the ECDC, which we are supposedly following, was saying. As soon as the new traffic light system, or whatever derivative we have, was announced, people were already being told that they might not be able to come home for Christmas. It is not clear why people would not be able to return from green countries or orange countries or whatever, but it seems to be to do with testing. NPHET is dealing a death blow to the industry in Ireland while the rest of Europe looks to move on. People sometimes forget that no airline in this country is State-owned. Airlines are being bailed out throughout Europe and we will have to go to where we will get a return. At the moment, Ireland is bottom of the list because aviation has been demonised, particularly by NPHET. That body should stick to what it knows best.

I thank Mr. Wilson. In the minute that is remaining to me, will the representatives from Aer Lingus comment on the same issue?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

The key message from our perspective is that there is a range of measures in place that significantly de-risk aviation as a vector of transmission of Covid-19. These include health questionnaires, mandatory use of face masks, aircraft and airport cleaning, technology and so on. The act of travel itself is safe. We are suggesting, therefore, that a standard of testing needs to be introduced that is a screening standard, not a diagnostic standard. That standard of testing should be applied on a pre-departure basis from orange-list and red-list countries. By doing so, we believe that aviation can resume contributing to the Irish economy, which is urgently required, and it can be done safely.

I welcome the witnesses. There is a sense of déjà vu about this discussion because we had more or less the same conversation this day three weeks ago at a previous meeting of the committee. Unfortunately, that meeting was followed by three further weeks of inaction on the part of the Government. I am very interested in what the level of communication is between senior management at each of the two airlines represented today and the Minister or Minister of State. Will the witnesses indicate how many conversations or meetings they have had in the past three weeks with the Minister, Minister of State or a senior official on their behalf?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We have had zero such meetings.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I do not believe we have spoken to the Minister or Minister of State in that period of time. As I recall, we spoke to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, shortly prior to our last appearance before the committee. However, we are engaging with the Department of Transport at a senior level on a regular basis. To be clear, we are proactively engaging with and making submissions to the Department as things develop.

Would it be fair to say that Aer Lingus is leading that engagement? In other words, is it the case that the company is proactively making representations to the Department and the latter is not leading that engagement?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I think it would be slightly unfair to say that. We are being proactive but the Department is engaging with us on the range of issues.

My sense is that since the report of the Commission for Aviation Regulation in the summer, the sittings of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response and through to today, we have not seen the level of urgency that is required in terms of implementing a plan for the sector. We know that even if a plan were implemented next week that included rapid testing, locator forms and everything else, it would still require a number of months, if not longer, for the aviation industry to recover. It is not a question of the aeroplanes going straight back up in the sky. None of us is operating under that assumption. However, I do not get a sense that there is any urgency from the Minister in tackling the issues or at least putting us on a path to recovery. I am very concerned about that.

The witnesses mentioned the importance of planning and scheduling of flights. However, there has been no progress in this regard in the period from the meetings of the Covid committee in July, the meeting of this committee on 7 October, through to this meeting today. If the Government continues to make no progress through November, December and into the start of next year, what plans are the witnesses putting in place in terms of their workforces? I am not trying to create any extra fear because the workers are already very scared and uncertain about their future. What kinds of implications will continuing Government inaction have for the airlines' ability to sustain their workforce at current levels?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Before answering that question, I would like to correct something I said in response to the Deputy's previous question. We spoke to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on the evening after we last appeared before the committee, rather than just before it, as I stated.

To answer the question the Deputy just asked, we are communicating very regularly with our workforce. We continue to emphasise the importance of the adoption by the State at a policy level of the traffic light system and a meaningful and appropriate implementation of that system. We are planning our business and resources on that basis. We have not engaged or communicated a detailed plan as to what would happen if that policy step and that implementation is not done. We are emphasising today the critical importance of ensuring those steps are taken urgently. Doing so will facilitate a recovery over time, a restoration of demand and, indeed, a restoration of confidence that it is, in fact, okay to travel. That is the important first step. As both Mr. Wilson and I have said, that first step has to be taken and then we can get into the phase of planning for what the future is going to look like.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Looking at Cork and Shannon, I would say that the mood among our staff is utterly despondent as to what is going on and how it was allowed to happen without any intervention. We have more than 80 locations throughout Europe where our aircraft are based, similar to Cork and Shannon, and we must make commercial decisions about all of them. This limping along is not going to do anything for anybody. Life will be difficult enough as Europe works its ways through the current spike of infections and until confidence returns at some point with the introduction of a vaccine. It is hard to get across how truly extraordinary it is that this country - an island nation that needs air connectivity more than most - instead of leading the pack in seeking to bring aviation back in a more expedited way, is actually at the bottom of the class in this regard. I really do not understand it, especially when the answer is on the Minister's desk. That solution would give us a fighting chance. In its absence, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better and I really fear for our tourism sector next summer. If there are no aircraft coming into the country, there will be nobody coming here to fill the hotel rooms and visit the attractions. We are making our decisions with that prospect in view and the Government needs to get to grips with it. No other airlines are coming in. Operators throughout Europe are getting much smaller and airports already realise they need to attract people for next summer. Other countries are working on that but nothing is being done here in Ireland. It is a shame.

If we get this first step wrong or do not take it, are we going to see extensive job losses in the two airlines next year?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I really do not want to be thinking about that. Aviation is one of those industries where people can be more transferable. They might not want to do it but pilots and cabin crew in Cork and Shannon may well move with their aircraft in the hope that things will come back. The thing about aviation is that we have relatively small numbers of people for the movement of the aircraft. Of course, there are significant implications for the wider economy, including people working at the airports, taxi drivers operating out of them, hotels, attractions and all of that. I do not want to be thinking about job losses because we will continue to work with our people. We have implemented agreements whereby we have not made anyone redundant among our crews in Cork, Shannon and Dublin. We want to be able to bring them back. If that means that those aircraft go elsewhere, then it may be an unpalatable solution for some of our people but they will be doing so in the hope that we would come back at some other stage. In the short term, this is going to be disastrous for Ireland and I do not think people realise what is coming next summer.

We are going to miss the boat or the plane.

I can feel the frustration. Indeed, that is felt here at committee level as well on the basis that we seem to have made no progress since our last discussion. The scenario that has been pointed out today is frank and forthright but very bleak. We started this process in the past few days and the whole aviation scenario tends to look catastrophic. We have a situation where the prospects for airlines are bleak and where Cork, Shannon and Knock airports are effectively wastelands and deserted as we speak. Plus tourism is non-existent. Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair bring many people to Ireland through the commercial and business sector so they have a good idea of their profile. We all talk about tourism and the impact on the economy, which is correct. Will the witnesses outline their assessment of the damage that has been, and is being, done to our business and corporate sector due to a lack of connectivity?

Have both airlines requested state aid from the Government? Yesterday, we heard from a representative of the European Commission that he was not aware of any application for state aid being made on Ireland's behalf. Aer Lingus and Ryanair mentioned on several occasions in the recent past that they must compete with other airlines in other countries that have the assistance and support of state aid within their jurisdiction. Has the Government made an application? Yesterday, I was gobsmacked to hear the representative of the European Commission say that there were a number of funds available to be accessed but he was not aware as to whether the Irish Department, Ministry or Government had made an application.

Yesterday, a refund issue arose. What is the refund position with both airlines? We have had many complaints from consumers who are entitled and eligible for a refund. The process seems extremely slow and the Irish Travel Agents Association has taken a huge amount of criticism as a result. Will the witnesses update us? What is their attitude to refunds? How have the airlines approached that?

Do the witnesses agree we have no possibility of opening the airports and bringing people on to aircrafts unless we put a rapid testing system in place? This is all about people having the confidence to board an aircraft and fly. Obviously, the movement of people generates movement within the economy but, as things stand, we are at a complete standstill. What is the view on rapid testing? What is the level of communication between the airlines and the Dublin Airport Authority and the Department on rapid testing? How do the witnesses see that progressing?

In terms of Christmas, I understood from the way we were moving yesterday and from the statements emanating from Government previously that we hoped for some happy reunions at Christmas. Therefore, I hoped that we would have a co-ordinated policy, and that guidelines would be set out so people could understand the basis on which they could return home for Christmas. However, yesterday, the Chief Medical Officer, CMO, and NPHET poured cold water on that. There does not seem to be a co-ordinated approach of one voice and one action. The policy is all over the shop and we seem to be making it up as we go along. There is no place more impacted than the aviation industry because of a lack of direction and policy.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I am happy to give Aer Lingus's response to those questions, if I may?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

With respect to the first question from Deputy Lowry that related to the business community and the impact a lack of connectivity is having on it, increasingly, we are hearing voices from the business community expressing concern about the lack of connectivity. I have heard it expressed best by some executives with significant investments in Ireland who expressed a wish to walk the land and review their investment in Ireland but that is not something they can do. That not only impacts on the existing foreign direct investment in Ireland but also future investments that may or may not be made. It is quite clear that Ireland is putting itself at a significant disadvantage by the policies it has adopted in preventing business traffic.

With respect to state aid and the appearance by Mr. Cornelis at the committee yesterday, I confirm that the aviation recovery task force made a number of recommendations but none of them has been implemented. First, two of the recommendations related to the application of waivers or rebates with respect to airport and air navigation charges. Second, the task force spoke about a stimulus package with respect to regional airports. It is not clear to me whether they would constitute state aid or not but the State should consider implementing the recommendations, and if that requires an application to be lodged with the European Commission, then it should make it. To be clear, Aer Lingus has not made any application to the State for state aid, on a direct basis.

With respect to the refund issue, Aer Lingus has received in excess of 2 million refund or voucher requests since the start of the crisis and that is driven by the unprecedented level of flight cancellations. To date, we have processed 1.8 million refunds and vouchers, which is more than 90% of the requests we have received. Of the remaining 10%, we are working through them. Some of them are very challenging in terms of the complexity of the bookings. We are working through them and are committed to getting those refunds to our customers.

With respect to rapid testing, and I am not sure whether the Acting Chairman heard my remarks earlier, Aer Lingus believes that a rapid, affordable testing solution, based on antigen testing, is critical in order to meaningfully increase the level of international travel, and safely do so. It is our view that that testing needs to be at a screening standard, not at a diagnostic standard. The reason for that is that there are many other risk mitigations that make travel safe.

With respect to the comments on Christmas, I would agree that a lack of co-ordination and lack of a consistent and clear voice as to what the policy is has bedevilled aviation since March. I am aware of the comments that have been referred to but the lack of consistency has been a feature of the crisis since the start.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Does the Acting Chairman want me to continue?

Unfortunately, we do not have the time to hear the response of Mr. Wilson. I must move on to the next lot and call Senator McCallion who has seven minutes.

It is clearly very evident from the representatives of both airlines that they are frustrated by how the Government has handled the entire aviation situation. Mr. Wilson, in his opening statement, referred to the decisions taken on the Cork and Shannon bases. He said he was really disappointed that he had not heard from either the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, at the time. He said the decision could have been averted had he had a conversation with either the Minister or Minister of State. I ask him to quickly elaborate on that point.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

It could, potentially, have been averted if they had come to us before the decision. We had that well signalled, in that if they had adopted the traffic light system, as initially put forward by the European Council of Ministers, which was the freedom of movement for green and amber countries. We made our stance absolutely clear to this committee and the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. We wrote to the Minister on that basis on several occasions and yet we had no engagement whatsoever.

Honestly, I find it extraordinary to this day. Imagine that a factory of that size owned by Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson in Cork closed down and the Minister for Health or the Minister with responsibility for industry and commerce did not contact the company. We could have at least explored the options but we did not get that opportunity.

I will turn to a slightly different issue which faces all of aviation at present. I raised the matter yesterday with representatives of the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, but I would not mind hearing what it would mean for our guests' airlines. We are fewer than 70 days away from the end of the transition period and we do not seem to have a proper legal framework to address what is next for the open skies agreement. I have heard soundings from Ministers in London who have said they believe there will be an agreement. I have concerns that at this stage we cannot see the agreement in its entirety and I am sure that the Government is looking to address those issues in the omnibus legislation. It is a real concern that we are in the mouth of the end of the transition and still do not have a legal framework for the open skies agreement. How will that have an impact our guests and their airlines?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We hope a trade deal which facilitates aviation is done. The Senator may recall the last occasion when there was a hard stop in terms of imminent Brexit effects. At that point, a contingency arrangement was put in place. We would expect that in the event of the failure of trade discussions, such a contingency arrangement would also be put in place on this occasion. That happened in preparation for the last expected hard stop to emerge from Brexit.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I concur with that. There is still the possibility that there will be no traffic between the European Union and the UK. That threat still exists but we are hopeful that there will be a trade deal and that eventuality will not come to pass.

The witnesses' understanding is that the position that applied to last year's no-deal scenario would be likely to apply again if a similar scenario arises presently. Have they been engaged by the Irish and UK Governments on the matter?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair participate in the national civil aviation development forum where the Brexit issue is discussed in significant detail. We are absolutely engaged with Government on the subject.

Ryanair today announced a reduction in the frequency of flights between Cork and Heathrow. That was obviously disappointing to hear. What was suggested to Cork? Which flights will take place? Will they match the needs of commuters who work, for example, in London or elsewhere or will flights occur at a random frequency? Has that decision been taken yet?

Mr. Reid Moody

That decision has been taken. We will be reducing flights from Cork to Heathrow to three a week. We will increase that frequency over the peak Christmas season, the three weeks from the second half of December through the first week of January. The flights will be in alignment with the busiest Cork frequencies, which are mainly commuter driven.

I thank Mr. Moody. Those are all the questions I have for now.

I thank our guests for the comprehensive presentations they set out, on behalf of their sector, in a strong way. I expect that if we had people from the hospitality or retail sectors before us, we would hear similar passion about the reopening of their sectors. It is a fact at the moment that Ireland is, under the traffic light system, considered to be in a red zone. Can our guests identify what other countries on a green or orange traffic light would allow travel into their countries without any restrictions?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

That would apply to pretty much every European country at the moment. One can fly in and out of Germany with some restrictions. One can board flights out of France, Sweden or Italy. There is no testing between most of those countries.

I am talking about-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The Senator should not forget that the traffic light system was only brought in-----

I am asking in terms of quarantine.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

There are exceptions to the traffic light system. We, in Ireland, have the idea that every other country in Europe is closed down and waiting for a "Go" from the traffic light system. That is not the case at all.

If one looks at-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Spain has one of the highest rates of Covid-19 in Europe and there are no restrictions to flying in and out of Spain at the moment.

I get from where Mr. Wilson is coming in terms of protecting his industry. If he looks at the issue from our perspective-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I am not protecting my industry. The Senator asked me a question-----

Hold on a second-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

-----and I gave him the facts in my answer. He asked the question and seemed to be under the illusion that other countries have restrictions like we have. We need to get this message across to Oireachtas Members because this is like Groundhog Dáil. We are the only country that is restricting travel in the way that we are at the moment. The British are doing so to a lesser extent.

With the greatest of respect-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

At the moment, the green list means we are closed to each of the 27 EU countries and the UK. We are unique in the European Union in that regard.

Public health officials have guided us.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

That is the factual position.

Public health officials have guided us to being a red zone. I live in Tulla, County Clare, and except in exceptional circumstances, I am restricted from going 5 km from home. Is Mr. Wilson suggesting that if I want to travel to Spain, I should be allowed go as I wish? That is the dilemma.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I am not suggesting any such thing. The Senator asked me which countries in the European Union are restricting movement and I am telling him the factual position that Ireland is unique. We can argue about whether that is a good or a bad thing but the factual position is that, for example, there is no restriction on travel in and out of Spain. The reason is it has land borders and other ways of transporting. One could argue over the value judgment of that. When this pandemic passes, or gets better, we in Ireland are going to be left on the sidelines and nobody seems to be getting that.

We do get it and I was coming to that. It seems to me that because we are in a red zone at the moment, there are restrictions and limited access. It is hardly the fault of this Government or the Minister who Mr. Wilson identified that only about 42% of the flights that took place this time last year happened last week. Load factors are down at 38% but that is not necessarily the fault of the Government.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

It is the fault of the Government.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

What the Minister did was to sit on his hands-----

With respect-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

-----since 1 June, when this country was in a green zone. He did nothing.

Every other country-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The red zone classification then caught up with the Minister in his inactivity.

Mr. Wilson has helped me by identifying the other countries that had no restrictions and yet, right across Europe, activity is down by 58% in terms of the amount of flights.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

That is absolutely the case. Activity is down. We all agree about that.

Load factors are down to 38%. Mr. Wilson made the threat that he has many other locations to which he can take his aircraft. With the best of goodwill, I wonder where he will find locations for them. We will move on.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Is that a wish of the Senator or does he actually think that? I can tell him the countries at which we are looking at the moment. For example, there are two countries, Croatia and Slovenia-----

Mr. Wilson should keep that information for the stock market.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Can I answer the question?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Croatia and Slovenia have no national airlines at the moment and realise the precarious situations they will be in when the pandemic lifts.

What is the population of Slovenia?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

They have no national airline and have a tender out at the moment. Ireland may well find itself in that position in the not-too-distant future. If it keeps on pushing airlines out of this country, that is what will happen.

When Mr. Wilson considers the significant reduction in activity around Europe, there are not too many opportunities.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Why does the Senator not come in here and run the business? He seems to know all about it. I am here today to try to help.

With the greatest of respect, Mr. Wilson is lecturing us a little bit so maybe he would accept the offer and come on.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I am not lecturing the committee, I am trying to give the facts. It seems that people are trying to make excuses for the Minister, who did nothing when Ireland's cases of Covid-19 were down in June and July and is now saying he was right all along in doing nothing since we have become a red-light country.

I will let the Minister answer for that.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I agree that we should have testing but I do not think the Senator's argument for the inaction of this Minister holds up at all.

I will address the next question to Mr. Moriarty. Some of the staff at our airports are on reduced pay, temporarily laid off or both. Has Mr. Moriarty looked to engage with the HSE about having some of those staff members available to do contact tracing?

Aer Lingus will not see much activity in those areas over the next number of months. Have Mr. Moriarty and his colleagues given any consideration to the redeployment of staff to assist with contact tracing?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We have not. I assume the Senator is referring to staff in Shannon Airport. Throughout the crisis, we have tried to align working hours and pay with the amount of work that needs to be done. We made some recent changes in respect of our staff at Shannon Airport by giving them an option to return to a work pool at 40% pay in preparation for a resumption of operations or a winter lay-off. We put a similar arrangement in place for our cabin crew at Shannon. We have also launched voluntary severance schemes and incentivised career break schemes for our cabin crew. We have not taken the step of offering our staff to the HSE for the purpose of contact tracing. To be honest, it is our assumption that there is sufficient availability within the public sector to provide that facility.

I thank Mr. Moriarty.

I wish to follow up on the issue of workforce planning. Will Mr. Moriarty indicate where Aer Lingus expects to be in that regard in the months ahead? For example, it has a voluntary redundancy package. By what number is it looking to reduce its head count?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Our approach throughout the crisis has been to maintain the employment relationship with as many of our employees as possible. That has been our approach across our business regardless of location. Employees in the form of fixed-term contractors have left our business and contractors who were due to join our business over the busy summer period ultimately did not do so. We have engaged in consultation with our staff and their representatives on redundancies. When we wrote to the Minister in that regard, we told him that we were looking at up to 500 redundancies. Consultation and the deployment of schemes are ongoing, but we now anticipate that the number of redundancies will be approximately 250. That figure is based on our assumptions about the recovery. Our plan is to run a significant operation in summer 2021 from all of our bases. In order to facilitate that, certain changes in policy and the implementation of the traffic light system have to take place.

We heard Mr. Moriarty loud and clear as regards those requests. I thank him.

I will give Mr. Wilson an opportunity to reply to the questions on reuniting families at Christmas and mixed messages, to set out Ryanair's position on those who are eligible for refunds and the lack of rapid testing, and to outline his views on the fact that competitors have access to state aid, which puts our airlines at a disadvantage.

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell resumed the Chair.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Our view is that most of the state aid in Europe is illegal. In extraordinary times, however, it is possible to have state aid that is legal. As set out in the task force's recommendations, Aer Lingus, Ryanair and any other airline that flies in and out of Ireland could access reduced rates of airport charges or rebates on same. That would be fundamental in decisions to base aircraft in Ireland from next summer. We urge the Minister to do something on that.

Regarding businesses that are involved, we carry a large number of people to and from the UK. Many of them work in the National Health Service, NHS, and so on. They have been discommoded by travel bans. One can only imagine what is going on in Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson in Cork where they are battling to develop a vaccine but it looks like access out of Cork Airport is slowly being strangled.

Anyone who wanted a cash refund has got a cash refund. It is accessible on the website. One will find people who are noisy about this but who were not entitled to refunds. If someone is entitled to a valid refund, he or she will get it.

Regarding travel agents, there is a process on our website. We must be sure that the person is getting his or her money back because that is what we are obliged to do under EU Regulation 261/2004. The Commission for Aviation Regulation understands that.

As to the question on Christmas, the Chief Medical Officer's decisions must be based on science. Saying at this stage that we should not have travel, regardless of where people come from, is to take the same route we followed in the summer when we trashed the tourism industry and policy failures saw the rates of Covid-19 spiral due to domestic factors. We must learn to live with this virus, restore our economy and protect the most vulnerable. There must be a way of doing that as opposed to this continuous cycle of lockdown, which will get us nowhere. We are very vulnerable as an economy.

I hope I answered all of the questions.

Ryanair is considering discontinuing flights out of Shannon Airport and Cork Airport from 4 November.

Mr. Eddie Wilson


I have a question for Mr. Wilson. The Government is introducing the new traffic light system. I want to drill down into the details. The proposal we are hearing about in respect of orange countries has to do with people undergoing rapid pre-departure testing and effectively getting negative results. Would that not work?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I can only deal with the demand we have. The policy must allow demand to resume in some sort of predictable fashion so that we can put on flights. One must work backwards from that. We have made it clear that if we can get green and amber, it would be very beneficial for us.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The Chairman is asking me a question-----

The key point here is that-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

-----and I am trying to answer as best I can. I cannot tell what effect a certain amount of testing will have on demand. We will make our decisions based on demand. I can only give the Chairman my best opinion as to what circumstances would release that demand. It is clear-----


Mr. Eddie Wilson

I am sorry. We have seen that there has been pent-up demand in other markets following the lifting of restrictions.

The point I am making is that Ryanair is taking a decision to pull flights in their entirety from Shannon Airport and Cork Airport four days prior to the Irish Government's implementation of the new European traffic light system, which will obviously involve some form of pre-departure testing. Is this just about upping the ante for the Government? Why did Ryanair not wait until the new system had been announced before making its decision? Why is it pre-empting the Government's announcement by announcing here publicly that, from 4 November, there will be no flights out of Shannon Airport or Cork Airport?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We have no demand.

No. Why-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I am sorry, but the question should be put to the Minister. What has he been doing since 1 July?

No. My question is a legitimate-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I have no confidence. Maybe if the Minister was in here and picked up the phone to us. I have no idea what the Government is going to put into the traffic light system because it has not said exactly what it will-----

But why did Ryanair-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

As a matter of fact, the latest news is that the Government will ask an expert group to report back some time in late November.

No, Mr. Wilson. I have two specific questions.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

And I have answered.

Why did Ryanair make its announcement four days prior to the details of this-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

It is because we do not have passengers.

I am sorry. I will just ask the question and then Mr. Wilson can answer.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

It is because we do not have passengers.

Why did Ryanair do that? Second, would it work for Ryanair if a rapid pre-testing system was implemented in orange countries?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

In the airline industry we need to know whether people are going to travel. If we were going to sort out the bookings for November, then we should have had a new system in last August or September at the latest, so we would know what bookings would be. I can only deal with what I have and the simple answer is we are not flying because there is nobody booking. It is as simple as that. It is up to the Minister to talk to us and to say what things might work and the reasons for doing X,Y and Z.

I do not know whether testing in orange zones will work. Perhaps they will prove us wrong but we need a track record as to whether it is going to work. I keep coming back to this. In other European countries at the moment, a person can fly without that. We are an outlier and have been since the start of this. We are now reaping that in places like Cork and Shannon airports which really depend on high load factors. There is nobody booking, so there is nothing I can do about it.

Mr. Wilson would have to admit it is a bit coincidental that Ryanair is making this announcement four days before the announcement by Government of a new traffic light system.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I do not know what the Chairman means by "coincidental". He should come in here and look at things. There are no bookings.

I know that. I am asking-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We are running an airline here and one needs bookings. There is nothing coincidental about it at all. If one has no bookings, one does not put flights on. It is not just Cork Airport; it is Shannon Airport.

With due respect-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

With respect, let us look at this on a European basis. It is not just in Cork and Shannon airports. We have cut flights right across Europe as well. As it turns out, however, because Cork and Shannon airports are peripheral airports the demand for those has dried up completely.

Mr. Wilson has not answered my question. If the orange-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I am sorry but I have answered the Chairman's question.

If a pre-departure rapid antigen type test was put in the orange countries, would that be-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

If orange antigen testing came in and that restored confidence among people to return to flying then, of course, we would look at it. I am in the business of trying to move passengers and make a profit on that. I am not in the realms of speculation here.

Will Mr. Wilson hold off on his decision to 4 November until he sees the details of the-----

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The cancellations have already been processed. They were processed yesterday.

Why did Ryanair make that announcement? It looks to me like it is upping the ante on this with the Government.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

It is a commercial decision and we have not just done it in Ireland. People can understand this. It does not give anyone any pleasure to do this. We are doing it throughout Europe as well but it is particularly required at Cork and Shannon airports because there are no bookings. It is as simple as that. I cannot fly aircraft which are empty.

Do both airlines, Ryanair and Aer Lingus, expect to fly people home for Christmas?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I will let my colleague, Mr. Moriarty, answer too. Yes, we will have flights from 14 December in and out of Cork and Shannon airports because we believe people will start to travel again but maybe they will not. Perhaps they will listen to NPHET and not travel and, in that case, we may have further cancellations.

The committee will put those questions to NPHET next week, Mr. Wilson.

Mr. Dónal Moriarty

I will answer that question. Of course, as Mr. Moody outlined earlier, we will be operating out of Cork Airport throughout the winter and we will increase services in London Heathrow for a three-week period over Christmas. We will, obviously, be operating all our existing services out of Dublin and hope to bring people home for Christmas in that regard.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

I will just add that we will put on extra flights if there is sufficient demand to bring people home for Christmas.

We will hold Mr. Wilson to that.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Absolutely, once we have got the demand.

This has been a real blow to everyone with an interest in aviation. To follow up on the point made by our Chairman, in the week of the announcement of the traffic light system, Ryanair announced the winter closure of its Shannon and Cork bases. In the week the new regime begins, it will withdraw from flights. It is important it is said, and we heard it in the last comment, that this is based on a lack of bookings. Two things are at play here. There are the orange and red countries and the lack of uniformity. That message rings loud and clear as does the need for testing. The fact is that the same barriers make flying out of Dublin difficult. Ryanair will still fly out of Dublin Airport but not out of Shannon and Cork airports. That point needs to be made loud, clear and several times. The airlines are making this decision on a commercial basis, based on low booking rates for both of those airports.

In terms of flying at Christmas and putting on extra flights, I want to hear from both airlines about their short-term and medium-term commitments to getting planes flying out of Shannon Airport again. Under what circumstances will they revise their spring and summer schedule? I want to hear what both airlines can say to the staff they have based in Shannon Airport because I am aware they talk about good communications. I have seen staff getting videos and WhatsApp messages. They need to know, unequivocally, from both airlines what the coming months will be like for them as workers who work for those companies out of the Shannon base. Will the airlines use staff based in their Dublin base to supplement what they are doing or to replace them if there are flights? I am specifically talking about cabin crew. I want to hear from both witnesses on that, please.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

That is probably a question for Mr. Moriarty.

It is a question for both, Chairman.

Mr. Wilson will not be left out.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We demonstrated our commitment to Shannon Airport by announcing our summer schedule 2021 and that being an extensive schedule. That is what we want to do. I am aware I am reiterating what I said earlier but there are key things that must be done to enable that to happen successfully. They are the policy change and the appropriate implementation of the traffic light system and the rapid antigen testing regime I outlined.

We have been communicating extensively with our colleagues based in Shannon Airport. As the Deputy said, we are doing so by video message. I do not really apologise for that. It is entirely appropriate in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have also made significant changes recently in terms of pay through the introduction of 40% pay for availability to be in a work pool or winter leave, and we have introduced voluntary severance programmes.

We are, therefore, engaging extensively with our staff about all the options open to them and about the future in terms of our ambition. As I said, our ambition is to maintain an employment relationship with as many of our employees as we possibly can and to do that we want to restore our operations to a sustainable level. We need, however, the support of the State at a policy level to enable that to happen.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We had the announcement that flights from other bases do not affect our staff in Shannon and Cork airports. We spoke to them about the closures of those bases in recent weeks in terms of the winter schedule. Our hope is that we will reopen those bases next summer, that is, from 1 April onwards. What we need, however, is some basis for doing that and as a start we must be able to, at least, have a fighting chance before we get demand to recover. Flights for Christmas will be there from 14 December onwards and we would hope that people will be back travelling by that time.

We are committed to Shannon and Cork Airports but the demand is just not there at the moment. November is typically one of the worst months to try to stimulate people to travel and pricing is not going to do that. It is the policy failures of this Government and it needs to rapidly do something about it before this situation gets worse. It does not affect our colleagues there at the moment because, unfortunately, they have already been laid off and we would hope to have them back next summer. I hope there is some action as a result of this meeting, in particular by the Minister, to adopt the aviation task force recommendations and put something in place for next summer to attract traffic back into Cork and Shannon airports.

I will be very quick as some of my questions have been answered. What refunds have been paid, in both percentage and monetary terms, and what refunds are still to be paid? What flights across Europe have been reduced and what other bases have been dropped?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

We have had cutbacks in pretty much every base across Europe. We have seen the closure of our base in Toulouse in France. We have had a reduction in traffic and we ran a reduced schedule throughout the summer and this winter. We recently announced that, and it is part of the further cutbacks coming in Cork and Shannon. It is happening everywhere across Europe.

On refunds, anybody entitled to a cash refund can get that refund. This can be done directly on the website. The Deputy referred to the travel agents issue earlier and I have already answered that.

Mr. Eddie Wilson

Pardon me?

The witness has answered that. Does he know, in percentage or monetary terms, the refunds paid and those which are still to be paid?

Mr. Eddie Wilson

The only people outstanding are those who made bookings through travel agents. Once we identify them, we will be more than happy to reimburse those people. There is process for them to do it. We do not break down that amount.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

It is a similar approach and we have had over 2 million refund and voucher requests. I will not provide a precise number but suffice it to say that it is in the hundreds of millions of euro and we have processed over 90% of them. As I have said, the remaining 10% or so that remain to be processed are particularly complex but we are working through them and committed to our customers that we will process them.

Has the general number of flights reduced on the basis of the airline stopping operating in locations across Europe?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We base our aircraft in Dublin, Shannon and Cork. The same question does not apply to us as it does to Ryanair.

What about the reduction in flights?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We have reduced our capacity very significantly. Throughout the crisis we were down to below 20% and we are slightly above that at this point. Our capacity has dramatically reduced because of the crisis. That remains the case for the winter.

We will have Dr. Tony Holohan, the Chief Medical Officer and the chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, before us next Tuesday, along with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I hope both of the witnesses will be tuning in as we will put questions to the Minister and Dr. Holohan. We ask that they bear with us until the new system for flights is introduced by the Government on 8 November. Ryanair and Aer Lingus are very important to us because of the number of people they employ. This is a national crisis and we hope the airlines, like everyone else, will play their part to ensure we can get flights back in the air in a safe way. I thank our witnesses, including Mr. Wilson, Mr. Moriarty and Mr. Moody, for today's engagement with the committee.

Sitting suspended at 1.34 p.m. and resumed at 3.01 p.m.

I welcome Ms Mary Considine, CEO of Shannon Group; Mr. Dalton Philips, CEO of the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA; Mr. Niall MacCarthy, managing director of Cork Airport; Mr. Ivan Bassato, executive vice president airport management, Aeroporti di Roma; and Ms Veronica Pamio, chief communication and public affairs officer, Aeroporti di Roma. Members should be aware that the representatives from Aeroporti di Roma have informed us that they will leave the meeting after one hour. I propose to reduce the time for questions from seven minutes to five minutes in that context. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Witnesses attending in the committee room are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the presentation they make to the committee. This means they will have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything said at the meeting. However, they are expected not to abuse this privilege and it is my duty as Chair to ensure that this privilege is not abused. If statements are potentially defamatory, therefore, regarding an identified person or entity, witnesses will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that the witnesses comply with any such direction. For witnesses attending the meeting remotely, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege, and they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as witnesses who are physically present. Witnesses participating in this meeting from jurisdictions outside this State are also advised that they should be mindful of their domestic law and how that may apply to the evidence they give. All witnesses are again reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory regarding the identified person or entity, the witnesses will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Members are also reminded that committee meetings should conclude within two hours in any one day. This committee is scheduled to sit twice today, and this is the second sitting, for a cumulative time of just under four hours. Members, therefore, are asked to rotate in and out of the meeting when they have finished asking their questions. With the indulgence of the other witnesses, in the context of Mr. Bassato having to go within an hour, I ask him to be the first to make a presentation. Is that okay with Ms Considine?

Ms Mary Considine

That is fine.

We thank Mr. Bassato for taking time out of his busy schedule at Rome Fiumicino Airport, and I ask him to make his opening statement.

Mr. Ivan Bassato

I thank the committee for the invitation. We are very proud and happy to be part of this committee sitting. I thank the members of the committee for inviting me to contribute to this session. It is an honour for me to have the opportunity to share with the members of the committee the views of Aeroporti di Roma on the future of travel in the aviation sector.

The pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge to airports, which have found themselves with a need to evolve their approach rapidly to comply with the paradigm shift in travel and tourism. Aeroporti di Roma's primary commitment today is to create the necessary conditions to relaunch traffic in maximum safety. We have been working relentlessly to implement effective protection measures and a strong prevention plan. We installed multiple screening tools, engaged in a series of sanitation activities and supported the Italian health authorities' testing operations by establishing a testing area in the arrivals hall and a large drive-through testing facility at the long-term stay parking facility of the airport. We are also, however, the first airport in Europe to have trialled a system of 100% Covid-tested flights, on the Rome-Milan route, in partnership with Alitalia and the health authorities of the Lazio region.

Our long-term goal in this respect is to use the expertise we developed to contribute to the creation and implementation of new global travel protocols, focusing on expanding the 100% Covid-tested flight system. Indeed, we regard the use of large-scale pre-departure rapid testing as one of the safest alternatives to current restrictions on non-EU travel flows, especially in respect of mandatory self-quarantine, as well as a protocol that would simultaneously increase passengers’ confidence. I am proud to say that the effectiveness of our health safety plan has been recognized by international bodies such as RINA, Airports Council International, ACI, and Skytrax, which rated Rome Fiumicino Airport with the highest score of five stars for its measures and protocols, as well as by primary international media that have endorsed the Covid-testing system available at Rome's airports.

To adapt to the new normal is a big challenge for all of us. I am confident that with efforts and international co-operation, we will succeed. I thank the committee for the time dedicated to me, and I remain available for any questions.

Mr. Bassato also sent the committee a presentation document. Is he going to comment on that document, or is that intended just for the information of the committee?

Mr. Ivan Bassato

I submitted that for the information of the committee. If there is a possibility of going through it now, I will do so.

No, that is fine. There is no need for Mr. Bassato to do that. We have read that document and that is fine. We will proceed to the other witnesses. There will then be questions after that. I thank Mr. Bassato, and I call Ms Considine to make her presentation on behalf of Shannon Group.

Ms Mary Considine

I know it is said that a week is a long time in politics, but it is a very long time in aviation these days. The prospects for the global aviation sector have worsened as the virus continues its hold on our people, our way of life and our economy. The situation in which we now find ourselves as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is a far cry from the positivity back in January, when we were anticipating growth across all our Shannon Group businesses, including the airport.

Since presenting to the joint committee on 7 October, the situation at Shannon Airport has deteriorated considerably, unfortunately. On 15 October, Ryanair announced its decision to temporarily close its bases at Shannon and Cork airports for the winter period. We have since moved into level 5 restrictions, and Ryanair has advised us that it has seen a total collapse in its forward bookings. The airline now plans to cancel its flights from Shannon Airport for a month, from 14 November to 12 December. This is really disappointing news for us and for the other airports affected. As a result, we now expect passenger numbers to be down by more than 80% by the end of the year.

This is also very disheartening for our airport employees, who have worked hard to keep the airport operational throughout the pandemic. There is genuine worry now among businesses in this region who rely on the connectivity that the airport provides and also for those involved in tourism who rely on inbound and outbound flights from Shannon Airport to make a living. There is great disappointment among our loyal customers as well, whose continued support we depend on. This latest announcement shows just how critical the situation has become, and how vulnerable the aviation sector is right now.

It copper-fastens the urgent need for targeted financial assistance to protect our airports, airlines and our air connectivity. To put the situation in context, we have had no transatlantic services operating from Shannon since March of this year. Two of our US carriers, Delta and United, have advised that they will not resume services into Shannon until 2022 at the earliest. Aer Lingus has also suspended its transatlantic and Heathrow services.

It is ironic that we have just marked the 75th anniversary of the first ever scheduled commercial transatlantic passenger plane which landed at Shannon Airport on 24 October 1945. As a result of that first transatlantic service, Shannon became the original airport gateway between the US and Europe, developing a strong transatlantic business and becoming the home to many global firsts for aviation.

All of this, unfortunately, is poles apart from where we find ourselves today. It creates a determination and resolve, however, to restore our lost connectivity. Since we last met, we welcomed the announcement in budget 2021 of €5 million capital funding for Shannon Airport. It will also provide for the extension of the employment wage subsidy scheme and the waiver on commercial rates. However, in light of the group’s revenues being down on average €1.3 million a week since the onset of the pandemic, we urgently require further supports.

The aviation sector is in free fall. As an island nation we need to connect to the rest of the world. Our economy is dependent on a thriving aviation industry. While recovery in the aviation sector is some time off, we must protect our nation’s air connectivity and our vital airport infrastructure. What we need now is a clear pathway to recovery for aviation, a robust system to allow us to get aviation moving. We welcome the decision by the Government to implement the EU traffic light system. There is still confusion, however, as to how it will be implemented which urgently needs to be addressed at EU level. There needs to be one streamlined, harmonised system that is applied throughout Europe for it to work in a meaningful way.

The continuation of current travel restrictions is heavily impacting passenger numbers. Testing instead of restriction on movements has to be the way forward.


Ms Mary Considine

-----and for further financial support for aviation as the Covid-19 shutdown of air transport continues.

To support the EU traffic light system, Shannon Group has called for the development and implementation of routine Covid-19 testing for passengers boarding flights out of the country, as this will help aviation to resume in a safe manner.

For our part, we are working closely with our peers in the industry and the Department of Transport. We are ready to roll out a pre-departure Covid-19 testing regime at the airport once agreed testing protocols are in place. Pre-departure testing is already proving effective in many other countries. A robust testing regime at airports can help to restore confidence and get aviation moving safely again.

Our economy is dependent on a thriving aviation industry and restoring air connectivity is now critical as we learn to coexist with the virus. In the meantime, we must protect our airports to ensure they can continue to do what they do best, namely, welcome passengers, play a crucial role in globalisation, connect cities and countries, foster economic activity and encourage international commerce and tourism, all of which generate employment in our regions.

While the latest news on the development of a vaccine is encouraging, we know recovery will take time. It is important we plan now for the safe restoration of air services. We urgently need to see the full implementation of the aviation recovery task force recommendations published on 7 July. These call for supports for aviation and, particularly in the case of Shannon, support for regional airports, as well as rebuilding and international connectivity. In the context of the devastating financial impact of this pandemic, there is an urgent need for Shannon Airport to be incorporated into the regional airports programme. This would see the airport receive vitally needed operational, as well as capital expenditure, supports.

As I have outlined to the committee previously, businesses on the western seaboard which rely on air connectivity to sustain their operations need critical air services from Shannon Airport to the UK, US, and, particularly in the context of Brexit, to a central European hub. None of these air services, however, will be viable until the markets recover which experts say could be as far out as 2024. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is ravaging the aviation sector across the globe, we are calling on the Government to provide financial supports for these vital air services until they can return to normal commercial levels of activity. We are asking the Government to support us to ensure these routes are not lost to the region.

We have taken many short-term difficult decisions in Shannon Group to deal with Covid-19 in order to preserve our businesses for the future. Shannon Airport is the hub which connects the region’s people and industry with the world. This will be needed more than ever as we recover from this crisis. Shannon Airport is a valuable State asset which needs to be protected and supported. We hope this will be provided for in the forthcoming national economic plan which we expect to be published next month.

Thank you, Ms Considine. I call on Mr. Philips, Dublin Airport Authority, to make his opening statement.

Mr. Dalton Philips

I thank the committee for the opportunity to continue the discussion regarding the ongoing devastating impact of Covid-19 on the aviation sector. Since my last appearance before the committee on 7 October, we have lost a further 1.5 million passengers, the population of Dublin, Cork and Limerick cities combined.

The European Commission has also adopted the framework for a common approach to travel within the EU. The Government’s decision to adopt that framework is the first step on a long road to rebuilding our connectivity. Unfortunately, however, the final European framework did not go nearly as far as anticipated. While we have this traffic light system in place, the road ahead for safely reopening European aviation is still littered with obstacles. Of primary concern is the fact that EU member states will set their own testing and quarantine rules without harmonisation. What we need is a system that delivers effective EU-wide co-ordination.

The Government has yet to formally announce how it will apply the new traffic light system in Ireland. From comments made by the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, when she addressed the committee last week, it appears that 14-day movement restrictions will continue to apply to passengers from red and amber countries. This may be waived for those arriving from amber areas if they have a negative pre-departure test. There is a suggestion that movement restrictions for those arriving from red areas may be reduced to five days if a person has a negative test five days after arrival in Ireland.

In contrast, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ECDC, has noted that travel restrictions are of “questionable effectiveness” when community transmission is ongoing, which is currently the case in most of Europe. Accordingly, opportunities for any significant uplift in travel as a result of this system are likely to be extremely limited. Red and amber zones currently account for about 98% of our potential passengers. Travel restrictions will continue to apply to these passengers. Even when case levels decrease in other European countries, travel to Ireland will remain closed off if quarantines continue to apply. In our view, pre-departure testing for both orange and red zone locations would be a safer alternative as it would mean we could screen out a significant proportion of risk before a passenger arrives in Ireland. This view is shared by all of Europe’s airports and airlines.

A recent survey of consumers conducted for the International Air Transport Association, IATA, shows widespread support for testing rather than quarantines or movement restrictions.

Some 83% of consumers said they will not fly if they have to quarantine on arrival, but 88% said they are willing to be tested to facilitate travel. Two thirds of European countries now offer testing at their airports. As I noted previously, DAA had secured suppliers to deliver pre-departure testing facilities at our airports using PCR methodology as a first step. Unfortunately, thus far the State has not provided DAA with the planning exemption required to establish these facilities, which has been granted to others, and we cannot therefore offer on-site testing at our airports at this point. As there is market demand for pre-testing, we will share information on private sector providers via our websites and other channels, although our preference remains to offer pre-departure testing on site. We will continue to engage with the relevant authorities on this.

We have spent months working on potential pre-departure testing at our airports in the belief that there would be a harmonised European system and that the Government would unequivocally support a pre-departure testing approach. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the emerging picture. An outbound testing facility is required to support reciprocal arrangements in other countries and to facilitate reinstating Ireland’s connectivity. Ultimately, the slow turnaround time and the cost of PCR means that it will not represent a viable, long-term testing option. To truly get people moving again we must look at rapid, affordable and scalable testing options such as loop-mediated isothermal amplification, LAMP, and antigen testing. In this respect, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, recently published a report which advised NPHET to consider implementing such tests. There is evidence to show that other countries are starting to embrace these technologies. We have just heard about it from Rome. Five airports are currently offering rapid testing, including Heathrow and Paris Charles De Gaulle. Ironically, it appears that under the Government’s planned application of the traffic light system, Ireland will accept a pre-departure antigen test if it is approved in another EU state, but will not endorse this system at home.

The view of the aviation industry is that without the traffic light model, EU member states should focus on pre-testing rather than other measures. However, if we fail to also improve the delivery and cost-effectiveness of the testing regime that underpins it, we will most certainly suffer further significant losses in services, as has been the unfortunate experience at Cork Airport recently and in what we have just heard from Ms Considine in Shannon. In closing, Christmas is just 58 days away. We want to welcome home our loved ones safely and to allow those living here who have not been able to see their families overseas to be reunited. We appeal for the committee's support for the adoption of a rapid, affordable, scalable approach to pre-departure testing that will facilitate reinstating travel in the long-term economic and social interests of our country.

Thank you. Before proceeding with questions from members, I have some questions. Mr. Bassato, with regard to the rapid testing that has been introduced in Rome airport, according to your presentation there is a 30-minute turnaround. What is the level of positive tests? Who pays for the test? Is it paid by the airport or through the ticket of the passenger? Who carries out the test? Are they employees of the airport or has the airport contracted it to a third party company? Furthermore, did the airport require planning permission from the state authorities to establish such a facility? How long did it take to establish it? I understand it is applied to 100% of passengers on the Rome to Milan flight. Perhaps, Mr. Bassato will give us an overall view. It is something we are seeking to promote here, but you are doing it in real time at Rome airport today so perhaps you will describe exactly how it works.

Mr. Ivan Bassato

Currently there are two large screening operations going on in Fiumicino airport and one in Ciampino airport. We manage the two airports in Rome, Fiumicino, the biggest one, and the smallest, Ciampino. There are two operations in Fiumicino and one in Ciampino. The screening operation is directly managed by the health authorities of the region of Rome. Healthcare operations in Italy are under the exclusive authority of the 20 regions of Italy.

The operation started on 16 August following an order of the national government of Italy to test the passengers arriving from countries within the European Union who were considered tourists. The Italian rule now foresees that there are two different regimes. There were no restrictions on intra-EU travel up to that date, at least between the lockdown and 12 August. Then the government introduced restrictions, and I will discuss them in a few seconds. The second part of the regime is for passengers coming from non-EU destinations outside the external border of the European Union. In that case quarantine or self-isolation for 14 days and limitations and restrictions apply. The passengers were mandated to test when they came to Italy from 12 August and we implemented that requirement on 16 August, four days later. At that time the four countries within the Union that were considered highly at risk were Spain, Greece, Croatia and Malta. That list changed following the evolution of the pandemic on the Continent. Currently, there is a requirement for passengers to test before entering Italy - at the airport, where possible, or within 48 hours after entering Italy - if they are coming from the following European states: Spain, France, United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands and Czech Republic. All the remaining European Union member states, including Ireland, are not subject to the limitations at present upon entry into Italy.

The passengers have two options. They are asked to test, negative or positive. If they test negative obviously there is a certain course of action. If they test positive there is another course of action. They can choose between the two options - molecular or antigen testing before leaving their country of origin within a time limit of 72 hours.

We will speak specifically about the system introduced at Rome airport for rapid antigen testing. There is 100% Covid antigen testing on a flight between Rome and Milan. Under the system that has been introduced, is the turnaround time 30 minutes?

Mr. Ivan Bassato


What is the positive rate of tests among the people who have been tested? Who pays for the test - the passenger or the airport? Perhaps you will answer those questions on the rapid testing that has been introduced.

Mr. Ivan Bassato

Okay. I confirm it is a rapid antigen test. It takes 30 minutes to provide a response once the nasal swab is taken. I cannot provide results about the positivity rate because that is not in our responsibility or ownership. They should be addressed to the regional health authorities in Rome.

It is provided for free to locals and foreigners.

How many passengers have been turned back and not allowed to fly because of a positive test?

Mr. Ivan Bassato

In the case of Rome-Milan flights, it is in the range of 1% of the passengers. The exact figure should be requested from the health authorities.

So roughly 1% to 2% of passengers test positive.

Mr. Ivan Bassato

Yes, it is in that range, as far as I know.

Will this be rolled out elsewhere in Italy? Does Mr. Bassato believe what has been produced has been a success to date?

Mr. Ivan Bassato

The project has involved co-operation between the airport, the Alitalia airline and the regional health authorities. We think it is a success and Alitalia shares this view. We are discussing rolling out the project on other routes. Our main objective is to have partial testing on long-haul flights and partially reactivate connectivity between Italy and the rest of the world. We are in discussion with several parties in the industry and the authorities to achieve this.

We will have to put Mr. Bassato in touch with the Government as quickly as we can.

I will speak first about the Covid infrastructure we may require in our airports if we are to facilitate rapid testing. This is a significant issue which was outlined to us by Mr. Philips. What is the issue around that? Will Mr. Philips expand on the issue that means they are not able to avail of a fast-tracked planning process for Covid infrastructure at airports?

Mr. Dalton Philips

I thank the Deputy. There are two routes to go in introducing pre-departure testing at the airports. In either case, permission is required. Statutory Instrument 93/2020 has been used, for example, in Croke Park. We have not been able to avail of that yet although we urgently need to set up a pre-departure testing regime. If we cannot get that, we would have to go the traditional planning route, which could take an inordinate period of time and is very costly. We are urgently waiting to see if we can use the statutory instrument at the moment but we have had no joy.

That issue is arising with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Mr. Dalton Philips

That is correct. It needs to be signed off by a Minister and at the moment there is a concern that we would be facilitating travel by having pre-departure testing but, as we know with the EU traffic light system, there will ultimately be reciprocity. If one wants to go to 11 of the major countries in the EU at the moment, one needs a pre-departure test. We are shutting ourselves off.

My next question is for Mr. Philips and Ms Considine. In terms of capital infrastructure projects ongoing at the airports or which had been planned in the next number of years, do the witnesses have any intentions to ask the Government for support with such projects, taking advantage of the quiet period with low levels of air traffic?

Mr. Dalton Philips

We need to do a material level of ongoing maintenance in Dublin and Cork each year. Ms Considine will speak for Shannon. It is €100 million plus in Dublin just to keep the lights on. Cork is in a very severe situation and needs about €70 million of capital over the next five years, which includes a total runway reconstruction. At the moment, when we are losing €1 million per day and running out of liquidity, we will have no option but to go back to the Government. That is part of the aviation task force.

With the review of the national development plan coming up in the next number of months, it is critical for the authorities of the airports represented here today to make their presentations to the Government on that. It is important that should happen. Does Ms Considine have something to say on that?

Ms Mary Considine

I thank the Deputy. As Mr. Philips said, we have critical maintenance work that needs to be done in the airport on an ongoing basis. Our airport averages €7 million to €8 million per annum for maintenance, safety, security and regulatory work. We included that in our budgets for next year and we welcomed the Government support of €5 million towards the completion of those projects for 2021. We have to put a level of matched funding against it and that is a challenge in the context of the significant losses we are incurring this year. That is why, in addition to capital support, we have asked to be included in the regional airports programme, which will provide a level of operational funding as well. Airports with fewer than 3 million passengers per year under EU state aid are entitled to get that support. However, the State-owned airports of Shannon and Cork do not currently get Exchequer support.

It is deeply worrying to hear that. There is a major requirement for the Department of Transport to act on that immediately in parallel with the Departments with responsibility for expenditure and capital investment. I am sure other representatives will follow up on that.

I will make a final point to Ms Considine and Mr. Philips. Transatlantic travel is important to the DAA and to Shannon Airport but it is also important we have political engagement with our respective colleagues in the US and Canada to get our transatlantic services resumed as quickly as possible. It is disappointing to hear it will be 2022 before transatlantic flights depart from Shannon Airport again. That needs to be expedited as much as possible if we see a recovery before then. I thank the witnesses.

I thank the witnesses. Mr. Bassato has come through an experience that Ireland is struggling with. I have a couple of questions which I hope he will be able to answer. In terms of rapid antigen testing, what is the sample? Is it a nasal swab, a throat swab or both? Who are the manufacturers and suppliers of the rapid antigen tests? What system is being used? Does Mr. Bassato know about the performance of the test? Does it meet the standard of clinical sensitivity of greater than 80%, which is a requirement set out in a recent report by our quality authority here?

Mr. Ivan Bassato

I thank the Deputy. In answer to the first question, the rapid test is an antigen test made on a nasal swab sample. The name of the product chosen by the Italian health authorities is SD BIOSENSOR. This is in use in Rome but it may be that in other locations in Italy, other products will be used.

Information regarding the clinical performance of the test is not available to the airport authorities. I am sorry to say this again but it should be requested from the health authorities operating the testing.

That is no problem. Has the impact of the introduction of this system on the demand for flights and the number of people travelling been monitored or measured? If so, is the impact positive or negative?

Mr. Ivan Bassato

We are proposing to the authorities the model of pre-departure testing after an improvement with the Rome-Milan route that is operationally feasible. The experience in Rome has been mainly of passengers arriving to Rome, following the regulations issued by the Italian Government. We observed that the number of passengers coming from those countries subject to an obligatory test upon arrival has been declining. On the Rome-Milan route, which we are testing only partially since 16 September, that is, almost a month and a half, there is stability in the number of passengers.

Deputy Joe Carey took the Chair.

From the time of conception to the time of implementation, how long did it take to introduce this system? What sort of capital investment was required?

Mr. Ivan Bassato

The level of capital investment required was limited. We had been planning with the authorities from early July until there was a mandatory requirement by the Government. With the authorities, we did some planning and prepared different scenarios for the evolution of the pandemic. When the order was introduced, it took four days. The level of capital expenditure was low because we began in an area that was available in the arrival hall, on the ground floor of the terminal. We dedicated about 1,000 sq. m to the operation. Of course, social distancing was required in the area.

The level of capital expenditure for the testing machinery and kits is not known accurately but I would say it is also low because the rapid antigen technology does not require a big investment.

I thank Mr. Bassato for those responses. I echo a point made earlier by Mr. Philips. We are entering a scenario whereby we will accept people coming into this country on the back of a negative rapid antigen test but we seem to be indicating it is not satisfactory for people departing the country. There is an immediate contradiction in that position.

I agree with the Deputy.

Is Mr. Bassato familiar with the EU traffic light system?

Mr. Ivan Bassato


How would his system fit with the EU traffic light system itself? Does he recognise green, orange and red countries in the way the traffic light system is supposed to? Has he a view on that?

Mr. Ivan Bassato

We are familiar with the system as members of Airports Council International Europe so we continue to listen to this discussion. The system itself has not been implemented yet in the country but we started with a similar regime. As I stated, the country experienced, in the first part of the summer of 2020, the importation of cases from abroad, in the first instance from countries far from the external border of the EU. In August, there was a surge of cases among passengers - many were Italian - coming back from holidays in Spain, Greece, Croatia and Malta. Some countries within the EU were identified as countries bearing a higher risk. They were not coded at the time as red or amber. I do not dispute that in the evolution of the legislation in Italy, the system based on the recommendations of the EU can be adopted by our Government. We have set out six groups of countries, three of which involve EU member states and three of which do not.

Mr. Bassato referred to two airports in Rome. Is the system he is talking about available in other airports in Italy?

Mr. Ivan Bassato

It is available in national airports. Before entering the country, the requirement for testing applies to all means of transport, not only to air transport. It applies to passengers coming by train or automobile. Many airports, although not all of them, have screening operations on the way. Not all involve antigen screening. It is a question of which is most accessible to the passenger. The utilisation of antigen testing is growing, however, and the level is much higher by comparison with two months ago, for example.

I thank Mr. Bassato. I have a brief question for Ms Considine on rebuilding confidence in the aviation sector and getting people to travel. It is obvious that we need a testing regime of our own. In her presentation, she confirmed that she has worked to apply such a system. Could she expand on that and explain the extent to which she can roll out testing at Shannon Airport and the numbers that can be catered for if the system is rolled out across Ireland? Does she envisage that it would be delivered by a private contractor?

Ms Mary Considine

On that query, we have engaged with a private commercial operator who is available to come on site to provide pre-departure Covid-19 testing. Initially, it would be PCR testing, which is more expensive and takes longer, but subject to approval regarding the LAMP testing, there would be capability to do as envisaged.

We have also engaged with our planning authority, who advises us that it does not consider planning to be required for this because it is ancillary to the airport's activity. In that regard, if there were agreed protocols on testing, we would be in a position to engage in implementation. Unfortunately, because of the ongoing travel restrictions, we will not have any scheduled airline services here for a month or so. That is very concerning. Everything we can do now to restore confidence and to get people back travelling will be really important. In the absence of that, however, the private operator would provide a service for other businesses in the region because we do not have enough volume at this stage to warrant an operator coming on site. It is important, therefore, that the service be made available to other businesses in the region, and there is willingness to do that. The service would be operated on site at the airport.

I welcome the presentations from all concerned. It is good to see representatives of Shannon, Cork and Dublin airports back before us. I compliment them on the work they have done in the intervening period. They have moved pretty fast in addressing the potential for testing. They have provided many answers in advance of the questions being posed today, which is welcome. We can rightly use a considerable amount of information from what we have heard about the situation in Rome. Bearing in mind the earlier session with the airlines, what is coming across to us today, and certainly to me, is that one of the main issues is that no matter what we do, we cannot do so in isolation in Ireland. We either move ahead or stall. Acting in isolation is effectively not going to be of any great benefit because we need to see the harmonised approach at European level. I suggest to the committee that we invite the Minister of State responsible for European affairs or the Minister for Foreign Affairs to our committee in due course to gain an understanding of the progress on achieving a harmonised approach before we conclude our work.

There has been talk of capital investment at Shannon Airport. Operational investment will be required. What is the current financial position? What assistance will be needed in the medium term? It is now quite clear, based on NPHET's advice, that there will not be a lot of activity between now and Christmas in the airports. Ms Considine has already painted a fairly dark picture as to what the early part of next year will be like. Can she outline the financial supports for the airport on which this committee might make recommendations?

Ms Considine has been working with the HSE on trying to find alternative employment for staff during this difficult period to help them to increase their incomes and pay their bills. It is really important. I thank her for the work she has done in this regard. Has she any update on that?

My next question is not relevant to my constituency but I am asking it because this is a transport committee.

Has the DAA looked at assisting staff who have had to take very significant drops in income? Have the witnesses looked at helping them to augment or supplement that through them acting as contact tracers with the HSE?

Ms Mary Considine

To address the Senator's question about funding, we have through the budget secured a contribution towards capital funding for next year, which is very welcome. The real challenge for us is the level of operational losses and in the context of that, our immediate ask of Government, which we hope will be included in the national economic plan, is inclusion in the regional airports programme, which would see us benefit from operational funding to cover essential costs like the cost of providing fire service and security cover at the airport. That would be an immediate ask of Government to help us survive this crisis so we can recover and rebuild.

The Senator referred to the ongoing dialogue with the HSE. We have engaged with our employees, a number of whom, particularly those on continuing temporary lay-off or on a reduced working week, would be interested in taking up additional work as contact tracers. We have passed that information to the HSE and are in ongoing discussions with it.

Mr. Dalton Philips

In the case of Dublin and Cork, we are in a very material downsizing at the moment. We are having to say goodbye to over a quarter of our workforce. Both Dublin and Cork have been heavily impacted. We do not see the recovery happening until 2023 to 2024 and, therefore, at the moment, we have to say goodbye to people permanently. We have a voluntary severance scheme in place. Having said that, Senator Dooley's suggestion about seeing whether we can connect people who are departing with the HSE if they have the requisite skills is a good one and I will follow up on it.

There is an element of see-saw because one would hope that when the aviation industry recovers, the necessity for testing and tracing will, hopefully, not be there by then.

I thank the witnesses, particularly Mr. Bassato. I assume this probably gives us some element of solace of a possibility. I agree with Senator Dooley that we probably do need a discussion with either the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs because we have had this discussion over the past two decades regarding harmonisation. What we can do is get our own ducks in a row. This committee will be discussing matters with NPHET and HIQA, particularly rapid testing, so we should build a conversation regarding the type of antigen testing that is being operated in Rome Airport. We need to reach some kind of conclusion and put some kind of framework together. I reiterate the point made by Deputy O'Rourke. We need some sort of pre-departure testing system that operates from here rather than just to here.

I accept that the airports are having significant difficulties, which means significant worries for workers. Could Mr. Philips address the proposal on new ways of working, which a number of craft workers have not accepted? They are now on 60% time. There is a belief among some of them that these are work practice changes and it is almost a case of "never waste an opportunity like this", namely, the Covid-19 pandemic.

As some workers working in terminal 2 are on contracts that are not as good as those of people working in terminal 1, they have an issue with pay parity while accepting the difficulties faced by the DAA at this point in time. We need an operating system across the board to get workers and management through this.

Mr. Dalton Philips

People make up 60% of our total cost base. The traffic is not coming back. We have lost 25 years of traffic and are back at 1995 levels. We are a commercial organisation that needs to fulfil a critical State role. If we do not lower our cost base, we will hit a wall and go bust. We are saying goodbye to about a quarter to a third of our workforce, somewhere between 750 and 850 people. For those who remain, we are saying that we can guarantee their wages at 80% with a plan to get them back to 100%, which is unprecedented in the sector because, as we know, many people are on significantly lower levels than that. We have balloted all our team members and 93% of the groups represented by ballots have voted in favour of the new work practices, which are very fair and in most cases, and I can use crafts as an example, have been in place for the past ten years. We are dealing with a group of craft workers who, unfortunately, are not in favour of these new work practices, which a number of their colleagues have been operating for the past ten years. I am talking about people in the same teams. We are working through that and will continue to engage. I am very closely involved here. We do not want to see anybody suffer and I wish it was not the case.

Regarding the Deputy's second question, we do have two people doing the same job in the same airport on different terms and conditions. This disparity between those who came in on new market-based contracts and those with slightly older contracts has existed for nearly ten years. It is something of which we are very aware. Where we can look to bridge that gap, we try to do so but we cannot do it in all cases. At the moment, it is particularly difficult.

I accept the difficulties but we need to reach whatever solution we can. I imagine that this is a wider conversation that the DAA must have with regard to Government and being able to ensure we deliver when we have operational aviation, as we, hopefully, will have if we go down the road of vaccines and antigen testing.

Mr. Dalton Philips

That is correct. Our North Star in this regard is to have market-based salaries so we do not want to see anybody below the market but we have situations where, with similar-type roles, some people are being paid the equivalent in the market but others are being paid above the market rate. This issue has been with us for a number of years.

I thank all the witnesses for returning so soon. We have two realities here. We have the reality of what has been happening in this committee over the past two days with all the witnesses increasingly frustrated and understandably angry at the lack of progress and we have the reality of the Minister for Transport cycling to a Cabinet meeting today saying that he would love to see airport testing take place. It is incredible. Based on everything we are hearing from witnesses, there is no urgency on the part of the Minister regarding this and he has not been taking the lead on this. This needs to be hammered home by this committee.

I thank our guest from Rome Airport for his wonderful presentation, which is a template for our Government. Our stakeholders are pushing this as hard this as possible. I have a few questions for Mr. Philips. There was a motion in 28 July 2020 in the Dáil regarding the proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 concerning airport Covid temporary structures for passenger movement. That was brought in on 28 July. Can Mr. Philips speak to that? Does he have any visibility on that? I think he mentioned something to Deputy O'Connor.

There was no debate on it. It seems like there was some movement from the Department in terms of providing an exemption for temporary structures for Covid testing. That is the language used.

Mr. Dalton Philips

At the initial stages of this outbreak we thought we would to have to erect marquees outside to protect people because we assumed the traffic would come back at the beginning of July. Due to social distancing, we have reduced the overall capacity of the terminal by 70% and we would need to have people outside. We were aware of the planning exemption and were going to avail of it for things like temporary marquee structures.

Was that for testing or passengers?

Mr. Dalton Philips

We pressure tested it for external queueing areas. We have obviously followed up on SI 93 of 2020 to determine whether we could move forward with the planning exemption to introduce a testing facility. I was interested to hear Ms Considine from the Shannon Group say that through her planning authorities she thinks she will be able to get permission. We are not able to get it at the moment. Our only route at the moment is to go through the normal planning process which, as the Deputy knows, takes a huge amount of time.

On Deputy O'Rourke's point, we have to have pre-departure to get people out of the country. We cannot let all the other European countries do the work to get people in.

Cork Airport has been discussed. There is pressure on all our international and regional airports. We know Cork Airport is worth up to €1 billion a year to the economy of Cork and the south. What level of engagement has taken place between the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and the DAA on Cork Airport, in particular? I am very interested in the level of engagement with the Minister and senior officials on this. It is one of my lines of consistent questioning.

Mr. Dalton Philips

If it is okay with Deputy Smith, I am happy to bring in Mr. Niall MacCarthy, managing director of Cork. I am also happy to answer the question myself.

Mr. Niall MacCarthy

We are very active with all our Ministers, Deputies and Senators, including meeting the Taoiseach. We have engaged with the Minister of State with responsibility for aviation, Deputy Naughton, and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, through the DAA and directly. We are very pleased with the €5 million capital allocation, but our ask is united. The committee has heard that from every airline and airport. We have to get our act together on pre-departure testing.

Smaller airports will need financial, capital and regional supports. Airports and airlines traditionally spend their time disagreeing and in conflict, but the industry is united. It is on its knees and has had various announcements. Ms Considine adverted to Ryanair announcing further cuts in the past few days. If we do not get pre-departure testing soon, there will be very little aviation infrastructure available to return to.

We will need financial, capital and operational supports. We have €5 million in capital support and a substantial capital programme to get through in Cork, totalling €70 million over the next number of years. We built a new terminal in 2005 and have not really invested in capital since then because it was not needed, but the airport now needs a lot of airside infrastructure. This year we will lose in excess of €40 million in operating profits and €20 million after depreciation. We will need support. I hope that answered Deputy Smith's question.

I thank Mr. MacCarthy.

I want to recognise the input of our witness from Rome, Mr. Bassato. He is a very good witness and I thank him from the bottom of our hearts here in Ireland for his input to the hearing. We will include his input in our report.

Mr. Ivan Bassato

I thank the committee for the invitation. I remain available for the committee if required.

I just missed asking questions of our witness from Rome. Nonetheless, there are some very important questions I would like to ask. I would like to put a question to Ms Considine from Shannon Airport. As a Clare Deputy, I recognise that today's news is a huge blow to everyone in the airport. When did Ryanair and Aer Lingus communicate that they would not fly in and out of Shannon for a one month period and until April, respectively? How recently was that communicated to the Shannon Group?

Ms Mary Considine

Ryanair informed us only in recent days that there has been a total collapse in bookings, in particular since the imposition of the level 5 restrictions last Wednesday. This was very unfortunate and disappointing news. We were just coming to terms with the closure of the base and the fact that the number of Ryanair flights per week had been reduced to eight. To see those now being pulled for a month is disappointing.

We have been in ongoing dialogue with Aer Lingus. I do not think there is any surprise in what it has said today. It has constantly said that Heathrow would be the first route it would look to bring back. We originally understood the date would be 7 December, but obviously given the ongoing restrictions, the confusion that surrounds the adoption of the European traffic light system and the lack of pre-departure testing, it has advised us that it will not restore the flight until the introduction of the summer schedule next year, which is usually the end of March or the beginning of April. Transatlantic flights are on sale for the summer season next year.

It seemed to pull back on some of that as the discussions went on and said it would review things around Christmas time. I know the Shannon Group will play its part for the region, but it is very important that full clarity is brought to bear in that regard, in particular in the case of Aer Lingus whose departure from flying out of Shannon seems further off than its counterpart, Ryanair.

We sense the huge frustration from the airlines that there is not uniformity across the EU member states. Mr. Eddie Wilson from Ryanair said Germany, Italy, France and Spain had good regimes that are very workable in terms of dealing with orange and red regions. He felt that only those four member states out of 28 had good regimes in place. I understand the situation. In a vacuum of uniformity, there must be some departmental negotiation going on between the Department of Transport and the airports. What kind of run-in time is needed for a pre-departure testing regime from it being announced politically to having it operational?

Ms Mary Considine

As I said, we have commercial operators that are ready to come on site. We need agreement around the protocols, what type of testing is acceptable and when it will be effective. We hope that the Government announcement on 8 November will bring some clarity to that and we will be in a position to have the service available for passengers and other businesses in the region.

That is good. There is still huge uncertainty facing the sector. We have heard from the IAA yesterday and the airlines have come before the committee. They have all told us very honestly the flaws that they see in the traffic light system.

As someone who is heading Shannon Airport, is there anything Ms Considine feels can be done in terms of new policy or otherwise to instill public confidence in the sector? We all understand the need for a testing regime. Can anything else be done so that the committee could deliver a message to Government?

Ms Mary Considine

The clear adoption of the traffic light system is really important. We need to remove restrictions and replace them with testing. There have been significant discussions in the committee today. There is a unanimous call that there should not be restrictions for green-listed as well as amber and orange-listed countries and that there be pre-departure testing for passengers coming in. We would also need to reciprocate that from an Irish perspective. That is why the airports have done a lot of work to ensure they would be able to put testing in place. We also need an acceptance of the type of testing.

My understanding is that there is no acceptance of anything other than PCR testing, which obviously is the most expensive and takes the longest to deliver. There are certain things that the Irish Government could do today to improve this. For example, it could have clear communications, remove the ambiguity and try to restore some level of consumer confidence while we are living with this pandemic.

My last thing is more of a comment. Maybe Mr. Philips could respond briefly. He will not like what I have to say. I understand the north runway at Dublin Airport is scheduled for completion in early 2021. It is an awful lot of money to spend to increase Dublin Airport's dominance in the sector even further. I note that Mr. Philips, by his own figures, estimates that it will increase connectivity by 34%. It is retrograde, and I know that it was funded a number of years ago and is near completion. Where is the DAA at in terms of delivering the additional dominance project beyond the Covid-19 pandemic? I know that like every organisation, the DAA is facing an immediate crisis, but beyond the Covid pandemic, where is the project in terms of its delivery? I would like Mr. Philips to explain that to us. Coming from County Clare, I fear what it will bring. I would appreciate it if he could update us on the status of the project.

Mr. Dalton Philips

It is a very fair challenge. I would say that neither Dublin Airport nor Cork Airport sets the market; passengers set the market. Airlines choose where they will travel based on passenger demand. Dublin Airport competes for routes against Manchester, Copenhagen and Vienna airports, for example, rather than against Shannon or Cork airports. When a large airline has a new aircraft to deploy, it will deploy it between two points on a map. If it thinks there is a market, it will deploy its aircraft to that end. We will be competing against all these other airports to win that business. We have to demonstrate for Dublin, and also for Ireland. In many cases, we are represented with the Industrial Development Authority, Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. We go in as a bloc to say to Qatar Airways, for example, that it should put the aircraft on the Doha-Dublin route, rather than the Doha-Copenhagen route, because this is the size of the market. A route lost to Dublin is a route lost to Ireland. It is not an issue of whether it is Dublin Airport or Shannon Airport. The airlines will choose where they go based on the demand.

On the question of the runway, we are near completion. Dublin Airport has been operating at capacity for many years now. We have the greatest admiration for what Ms Considine and the team do in Shannon Airport. This is not about us winning a Doha flight from Qatar Airways in a competition between Dublin Airport and Shannon Airports - it is about us competing with airports like those in Copenhagen, Manchester or Vienna.

In the Fine Gael slot, I will bring in Deputy O'Donnell, who joins the committee via video link.

I have a few questions for the witnesses. Have they had any interaction with NPHET to put the case for pre-departure rapid antigen or other types of testing? I would like them each to provide a brief response to that question. Perhaps Ms Considine could start.

Ms Mary Considine

We have liaised with our own officials in the Department of Transport but we have not liaised directly with NPHET. However, I understand that other peers in the industry have done so.

Mr. Dalton Philips

We have had a lot of interaction with NPHET and its members, with the national viral research laboratory and with other key bodies.

What has been the feedback? I ask the witness to answer honestly.

Mr. Dalton Philips

The feedback is that there is a real reluctance to open up the borders. I am not a scientist, but I know that the data from the HSE's own website show that if one takes the incidence rates over 14 days, for any number of weeks, the average number of positive Covid cases attributed to foreign travel is less than 20, or less than 0.05%. We have been challenging around the need to get something that is rapid and scalable, and not just PCR, but LAMP or antigen testing.

Would that tie in with what Mr. Bassato told the committee, whereby roughly 1% to 2% of passengers who are getting tested on the Rome to Milan flight appear to be positive?

Mr. Dalton Philips

We have had over 120,000 people come into the country in the last 14 days, and less than 20 incidences of positive Covid cases have been attributed-----

Do those numbers relate to those travelling into Dublin Airport, Cork Airport, or overall in Ireland?

Mr. Dalton Philips

That is overall. There are three simple questions that the Government needs to answer here. First, do we do pre-departure or post-arrival tests? It is a simple answer - one or the other.

What should it be?

Mr. Dalton Philips

All the airlines and airports are saying that it should be pre-departure. The second question is whether antigen or PCR testing should be used. I am not a scientist, but it seems to me that the veracity of the testing of antigen is becoming so sophisticated that we can go with antigen testing, which is rapid and scalable. The last question is what we should do with the amber and red countries. Do we allow pre-departure for both, or just one? They are three simple questions. If we can do that, we can get the country open again.

We will put those questions to both Dr. Tony Holohan and Mr. Ryan next week when they appear before the committee. Has Mr. MacCarthy had contact with NPHET, or would that have been done through the DAA?

Mr. Niall MacCarthy

We are all working together on this because it makes no sense to be competing. We have a member of staff assigned to the overall DAA team on testing and we are sharing all of our data with Shannon Airport. We would be competing for airlines, but in terms of testing, we want everyone to have the best, so therefore all three organisations are unanimous on this issue. PCR is too slow and expensive.

How long does PCR take?

Mr. Niall MacCarthy

It takes 24 to 48 hours. It would get us up and running with something, but it is too expensive and slow. LAMP testing is a really good alternative, as is antigen testing, which was mentioned by the witness appearing from Rome.

Does Mr. MacCarthy know roughly what the cost of the three types is? What is the cost of the antigen test per passenger?

Mr. Niall MacCarthy

The antigen test is the cheapest. The antigen test can cost from €10 to €30 per passenger, the LAMP test is more substantial, and the PCR test is the dearest.

If pre-departure antigen testing were required, who would the organisations want to pay for that? Would the airports themselves cover the cost, like the airport in Rome?

Mr. Niall MacCarthy

To be clear, the airport in Rome does not cover the cost. It is the health authority that is covering the cost in Rome.

What view do Mr. Philips and Ms Considine take on the particular cost issue?

Mr. Dalton Philips

The cost in antigen testing is going to drop dramatically. I met with a supplier this morning who thinks they can offer world-class antigen testing for €6 per test. When we are down at that level, it is really a debate about where the responsibility for paying the cost sits. I think it should be borne by the passenger, but we can debate that.

Ms Mary Considine

We would be looking at the passenger paying for it, because at the moment, what we would be proposing through this commercial operation would be PCR and LAMP testing, and they are expensive. That is why we are collectively saying today that we need to move to rapid and more cost-effective testing.

Are we looking at a turnaround of 30 minutes for rapid, antigen and LAMP testing?

Mr. Dalton Philips

Yes, that is correct.

If the Government was to come out tomorrow and say it was moving ahead with a traffic light system from 8 November 2020 - for green countries, no tests would be required; for amber countries, pre-departure tests would be required; and restrictions would be in place for red countries - how quickly could the individual airports have their pre-departure testing systems up and running?

Mr. Dalton Philips

I am happy to go with that. We could be up and running in a matter of days, but we need planning permission to put that structure in place. We have facilities ready to go, but we do not have planning permission.

Has the DAA found a way to get around the planning issue? Is there a technical point whereby a response is required from the Government or the planning authority? Can it be provided under existing legislation?

Mr. Dalton Philips

We could go for retention but we know many other facilities have been given planning exemptions and it was done overnight with the Minister's signature.

As to the traffic light system, there is a lot of confusion on red at the moment. We are saying that amber is pre-departure testing but red should be also pre-departure testing because we do not want to import the virus and then have to deal with it here.

On a question to Ms Considine, how quickly would Shannon be up and running with pre-departure testing and what would be the cost?

Ms Mary Considine

I do not have a cost for antigen because that is not an accredited testing regime at the moment. We could be up and running in a matter of days with PCR or lab testing but antigen is the most cost-effective.

I thank the witnesses, in particular for their patience. I compliment the committee because what we have heard today from our colleague in Rome gives us all very strong food for thought in terms of the direction in which we need to go. I was particularly concerned about the presentation by the Ryanair CEO, Eddie Wilson, this morning, where he said that if something is to be done for Cork and Shannon, it must be done now. He also spoke about the lack of communication with the airlines by the Ministers. Would Ms Considine like to comment about the lack of communication the airlines say they have received from the Ministers? The Irish Times is telling us these cancellations could have been averted.

Ms Mary Considine

I cannot comment for the airlines. I heard Mr. Wilson's comments on the lack of dialogue with Ministers. For our part, we have been in ongoing discussions with the officials in the Department of Transport and with Oireachtas Members, and we have briefed both the Minister of State and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan. They are all aware of the challenges we are facing in the business. We have heard the industry and the airports collectively saying we all need to work together. If we want to reopen aviation in a safe manner, we need to adopt the European traffic light system, it needs to be harmonised across Europe and we need to adopt pre-departure testing. The most effective test would be the most cost-effective, which is antigen. We have all flagged that if things are not done quickly, the risks are very severe for airports like ourselves. Ryanair had flagged for a good while that the market had collapsed and that if we did not reopen aviation, these services were at risk. Unfortunately, this has come to pass.

Yes. In fact, he went on to threaten next summer's business as well, which I found particular disconcerting in regard to Shannon. I want to broaden out the conversation to ask Ms Considine about leverage. What leverage does Shannon Airport have right now in this marketplace? We are all horrified that there are going to be no flights out of Shannon for over a month, in effect. However, while Aer Lingus has cut back services, it has kept a service from Cork and there are services from Dublin. Why has Shannon been singled out as the airport that has no services for the next three months at a minimum?

Ms Mary Considine

I cannot speak for Aer Lingus. We are in ongoing dialogue with it and it is a very important customer to us and services very important markets. Transatlantic services are key for us and, obviously the Heathrow service is our main hub into Europe at the moment, before Brexit. It is a really important customer and we have been in ongoing dialogue with it. The reality is that Covid has decimated aviation and decimated demand. The restrictions in place means people have been advised not to travel except for essential purposes, and we are not supposed to travel beyond 5 km from our home unless it is for essential work. That is the reality. The Government is advising people not to travel and, therefore, the demand has fallen through the floor and nobody is booking flights. As a consequence, the airlines have made the very difficult decision to pull services. This is devastating for us. It is devastating for our employees and for the people of this region, who rely on the services. That is why we all need to do everything we can to get aviation reopened in a safe manner.

We all know there will be a very slow recovery and that is why the measures we are calling for are so important until normal commercial activity resumes. All the analysts say it probably will be 2024 before the market resumes at normal activity levels. After that, they are talking about up to five or ten years before there is a full recovery in yield. That is a real concern and is why supports are needed in the near term and medium term as we recover from this crisis.

My final point is a key one. I am not convinced that Shannon as a stand-alone airport has the leverage to win back that business in the difficult next three or four years. It is striking to note that 96% of the airport growth prior to this crisis was all on the east coast. I cannot understand how people in the mid-west can benefit from a model which puts Shannon in direct competition with Cork and Dublin. Is it not time for a rethink?

Ms Mary Considine

Obviously, aviation policy is that we have two State airport authorities. For our part, we are very focused, as part of the Shannon Group, on driving not only passengers through the airport but growing the economy footprint of this region. That is why we have invested almost €130 million in the region. This has not only addressed historic underinvestment in the airport but it has also brought new property solutions to the market and new investment to the region, which in turn supports services. The committee will have heard others today say airlines need demand. They will not just fly to a place; there has to be a reason to do it, so there needs to be economic activity and tourism in the region. We are investing in driving our economic footprint and in tourism products and all of that in turn will support the airport.

It is a real chicken and egg situation. The air services to the airport are a real selling point in trying to attract new industry into the region. That is the starting point and we need to continue to invest in growing this region. Prior to Covid, we were on a growth trajectory and we expected growth in the airport, growth in the commercial property business and growth in Shannon heritage business, and our aviation custom has grown from over 40 companies in the group in 2014 to over 80 today. I cannot agree with the Senator that this has not worked. We were on a growth trajectory but Covid has just decimated everything. Our colleagues in Dublin and Cork say the same. Traffic into the country is down 90% so we are all on our knees at this stage.

I thank the witnesses for their contributions. We heard earlier from the airlines and we are hearing now from those working in the airports and the aviation sector on the ground. Something we heard a lot about today is demand, to which Ms Considine also referred. An issue of great concern to me, and I hope to the witnesses as well, is the toxic aspect that has developed around aviation in Ireland, which has not happened in other European countries. It is something we need to tackle. I am sure the public at large will read what has been said here today by the representatives of the aviation industry in Ireland, and see the extraordinary measures they have taken to ensure that aviation is safe again and to ensure we can get planes back in the air and passengers through our airports. That is the key message that needs to come out of today's meeting.

Another important message is that the Government must now realise, after hearing all the evidence given to this committee, that it has to take action to commence pre-departure testing and antigen testing. I certainly will be talking to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Transport following the appearances at this committee. This is critical and we need to champion it, as a country.

Ireland is incredibly dependent on the aviation sector for its economy and society. As many as 140,000 jobs are supported by the aviation sector in Ireland, which means 140,000 incomes for families across the country. It is time that people started to look with some degree of perspective at how important the sector is to this country. We cannot afford to make any more mistakes. I thank the witnesses for the information given but it is time for the Government to act. I will allow in Deputy Crowe to conclude.

In light of today's devastating announcements by Ryanair and Aer Lingus, I ask Ms Considine what will one see flying in and out of Shannon Airport, apart from cargo flights, between now and Christmas?

Ms Mary Considine

While Ryanair has cancelled its flights for the month what we will be left with, for that duration, is cargo flights and cargo movements morning and evening. We will have a level of transit operations that goes through the airport. We will also have general aviation. We will facilitate the movement of aircraft in and out of our hangar facilities. We have a large cluster of maintenance, repair and overhaul or MRO operators based around the airport so it is important that we maintain services for those because they are significant employers in the region. We will have no scheduled traffic which is devastating for the airport and it is the first time that I can ever remember anything like this. It is very concerning and that is why we need urgent action now. We cannot afford to be back here in another month talking about the same stuff. We need action now.

Can Mr. MacCarthy say what is left at Cork Airport after today's announcement?

Mr. Niall MacCarthy

We were starting on a relatively good base. We had nine scheduled airlines and 51 scheduled routes in Cork. Aer Lingus is continuing to operate into Heathrow and, periodically, into Amsterdam and have just indicated that they will continue to do so through the depths of whatever the crisis unfolds.

A new airline that we launched last year is KLM. We have a very successful relationship with KLM into Amsterdam. The Dutch royal family came over to be associated with the inaugural flight and presented us with some stuff. KLM has agreed that it will continue to operate. So we will have two scheduled airlines. We also have search and rescue, transplants, general aviation, the Air Corps and so on.

In passenger terms, we will be down by 95% but we will be open with scheduled airlines and scheduled routes.

Everyone is digesting today's announcement. Can Ms Considine state whether it has implications for the level of staffing with the Shannon Group? So far, the Shannon Group have had to take measures as an airport authority. We also know what Ryanair and Aer Lingus have had to do and the resistance with which that has been met by workers. Has the Shannon Group, on foot of what we have heard today, considered altering the current staffing level at the airport? Is there added cause for concern people should be made aware of right now?

Ms Mary Considine

Obviously this is new news to digest. We are evaluating it now. As it will be very challenging for us to maintain 24-7 operations in light of the reduction in scheduled services, we are evaluating all of our options now. First and foremost, we will engage with our own employees and will discuss it with them over the coming week. That will be our priority. We will be communicating with the airlines that continue to operate through the airport.

We have already taken difficult decisions and a number of measures. We had to take them to manage our cost base and preserve liquidity since this crisis hit us. Those measures are continuing.

Deputy Kieran O'Donnell resumed the Chair.

I wish to follow up with a line of questioning. Mr. Philips, if rapid testing is not introduced by the Government as part of the opening of the European traffic system on 8 November where will Irish aviation be over the next six months?

Mr. Dalton Philips

We are at 1995 levels now so we have lost 25 years of growth. The country has been shut down essentially because there is only a smattering of flights coming in and out. We are down 95% and will continue at that level. For the 140,000 people in the sector it is a hammer blow. I see it as much wider than that, as I am sure the committee does, as a stranglehold on the overall economy and our ability to rebound in a post-Covid, post-Brexit world.

What would Mr. Philips say to people who have the view that flying in and out of Ireland is unsafe on public health grounds? Safety concerns is the countercharge that has been put forward. I ask Ms Considine and Mr. MacCarthy the same question.

Mr. Dalton Philips

I would say one would have to look at the data. The Covid reaction has been driven on data, which is why this country is at level 5. The data show, categorically, that the level of imported cases in totality is less than 2% of all cases and in respect of the 14-day average, less than 0.5% of all positive cases in the country are attributed to foreign travel. The data do not support the stranglehold that is on the country today. There are testing technologies, be it the polymerase chain reaction, PCR, or antigen tests that can be scaled and not just open up the aviation sector, devastating as it is for Cork and Shannon, but open up the country.

As it stands at the moment, Mr. Phillips, is the level of cash the DAA is burning per week for it to continue to exist in the public domain?

Mr. Dalton Philips

It is but it is not widely known.

Is Mr. Philips willing to indicate the level of funding?

Mr. Dalton Philips

We will lose well over €200 million this year. We are rapidly depleting our cash reserves. If we do not open this country up we are going to be in a very severe state. On a wider level, when Shannon or Cork loses a route, it will not come back next year when things get better because that asset is redeployed somewhere else in that airline's network or sold and bought by another airline but is used somewhere else. It can take between four and six years to develop a route for Shannon, Cork and Dublin.

Yesterday, 19 people flew in on a flight from Dallas-Fort Worth on an American Airlines aircraft that probably cost €150,000 just to fly the route that day. That airline is ceasing operations and we will not get them back into this country in a hurry, which is a hammer blow for this country's links to the southern states of the US.

Can Mr. Philips encapsulate what the Government and NPHET needs to do now?

Mr. Dalton Philips

The Government needs to make three decisions and it can make them based on the data. Do we carry out pre-departure or post-arrival testing? Everybody has said it should be pre-departure but the Government needs to make the decision.

Do we do antigen or PCR testing? Today, we have heard from Rome airport about a very credible example of where antigen testing is now at a level of accuracy that competes with PCR testing, and is scalable.

One can test for just €6 per passenger.

Mr. Dalton Philips

Yes, it costs €6. What do we do for the people coming from a red country in terms of pre-departure testing or post-arrival testing and making them quarantine for five days? These are three simple questions.

It is not beyond the wit of man to get around the table and answer these questions and start opening it up. As I said, this is not about the aviation sector, it is much bigger than that.

Is Ms Considine at liberty to give us an indication of the level of cash the Shannon Group is burning at the moment? How can it survive? Does she regard 8 November as D-Day?

Ms Mary Considine

To give a quick response to the question, we have indicated already that our group revenue is down more than €1.3 million on average per week since the pandemic hit us in March. The committee can imagine how significant that is for an entity of our size. We have put difficult measures in place to reduce the amount of cash burn and that has been hard. It has been very difficult for staff who have had to take pain. We initially reduced hours of operation and we need to look at that again, so it has been tough. We have taken a number of measures to try to ensure we can trade our way through this but the longer it goes on, the more difficult it is and that is why operational support would be very important to us. On reopening the country, as an industry we have stepped up to the plate. We very quickly implemented all the measures to try to rebuild consumer confidence. We have made the journey through the airport as contactless as possible. We are, as an entity, advocating for pre-departure testing to restore confidence and working with the European traffic light system, and the committee has heard Mr. Philips talking about the decisions the Government needs to take. We have stepped up to the plate, as an industry, we have done all we can. We want to reopen aviation in a safe manner, we are very conscious of our public health obligations and we do not believe aviation is contributing to the spike in virus rates across the country that we are currently experiencing. It is certainly not the cause of us moving to level 5 restrictions, so we need to have a grown-up conversation and decisions need to be taken quickly about reopening the country.

Mr. Niall MacCarthy

We are an island nation. We are pioneers of aviation. If one looks at Australia, Mr. Alan Joyce of Qantas, is from Tallaght. If one looks at British Airways, Mr. Seán Doyle is from County Cork. The first duty-free operation in the world was in Shannon Airport. Aer Rianta International is in duty-free. We have the leasing sector-----

With all due respect Mr. MacCarthy, that was taken from us.

Mr. Niall MacCarthy

-----so we cannot just consider this in terms of airports and airlines. We have a massive ecosystem here where we were, and are, pioneers but we are definitely falling behind with testing. We will destroy this great industry and that whole supply chain if we do not mobilise in terms of testing. We have the largest low-cost carrier in Europe headquartered in Swords, and we have a really prestigious transatlantic carrier headquartered in Dublin as well. Tourism is our biggest employer and aviation feeds tourism. It used to be agriculture but tourism is now the biggest indigenous employer in Ireland. This whole supply chain is being collapsed, and it is billions and billions of euro.

Rapid testing is the first piece on the road to recovery. On the second question of cash burn, we have spoken about capex before. We need to go into the regional airports capex scheme. At Cork Airport, in operational expenditures we have burned €14 million in cash before capex this year and probably a similar amount next year.

I thank Mr. MacCarthy. Dr. Holohan and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will be before the committee next. We will address what can be done to bring in pre-departure rapid testing on 8 November.

I refer to something Mr. Philips said. It is something I believe would have been the case heretofore, that is, this idea of losing a route and being unable to have it returned for probably three to five years. Would Mr. Philips accept that this is a very untypical situation? It is not as if an asset is being moved to another location. The fact is there will be, as part of the recovery, more than an oversupply of aircraft dotted throughout the world, so as part of our recovery there will not be a shortage of aircraft, that is for sure. If we can get a framework in place that gives confidence to airlines that we, as part of the European Union as a bloc, are serious about living with the effects of Covid and perhaps the aftereffects of it, does Mr. Philips believe that will be enough for the airline industry to come back more quickly on routes, since the supply of aircraft will not be the issue? If anything, it will be the degree of confidence among the travelling public that will be the guiding light more so than the availability of aircraft.

Mr. Dalton Philips

I really hope the Senator is right. The reality is that airlines' balance sheets have been stretched to enormous levels, so airlines are having to massively restructure their own businesses and downsize them. What they are doing is getting rid of the aircraft. A new route can cost about €3 million per year to get up and running. That is the sort of cash burn one loses when starting a new route. When one starts a new route one does so with a long-term horizon and to be going back to airlines now and saying, "Invest €3 million in a route to Cork, to Shannon or to Dublin" is going to be a really hard ask. We are out of kilter with the rest of Europe because we are the most closed. There is absolutely a balance-----

I am sorry to interrupt Mr. Philips. Which country is closest to us in terms of that deeper level of restrictions being in place?

Mr. Dalton Philips

The UK is pretty close at the moment but we are an outlier there. There is an absolute balance-----

Of course, the US, from a European perspective, is closed.

Mr. Dalton Philips

The US is totally shut.

Mr. Dalton Philips

There is an absolute balance here in terms of public health and I would not like for a moment to suggest that we, as an industry, are not putting public health first and foremost. It has to be. However, it feels that this is a sector that is being held to a different standard from the rest of the country.

I accept that and I believe I made the point at an earlier session that if representatives of the clothing retail sector were before us, I suspect they would feel they were carrying an undue burden too. I suspect they would make the point that some of the airlines made, namely, that there are no cases of transmission of the virus in a clothes shop, in the same way as Mr. Wilson sought to sort of portray the industry by saying that because it did not happen on a plane that it was not an issue. However, decisions have to take more into account.

Mr. Dalton Philips

We have had zero risk. This sector has been closed down for eight months whereas the clothing sector has been open, one could argue now it is-----

Could Mr. Phillips make the case that if rapid antigen testing came in at airports, it would improve public health in terms of risk where the virus is concerned?

Mr. Dalton Philips

I am really stretching beyond my area of expertise. I can only tell you what I am hearing-----

That did not stop Mr. Wilson.

You are not going to take a leaf out of Mr. Wilson of Ryanair's book, are you?

Mr. Dalton Philips

It is staggering. This morning I was talking to a supplier of very powerful antigen testing and the data are really very compelling. I said, "I am not a scientist but surely when you share these data with NPHET it seems robust". Antigen testing seems to be the way to open up the country safely.

We have to take everything into perspective. Ms Considine will be familiar with some of the geography I talk about but if one lives in Tulla, as I do, and somebody else is living in Lissycasey in west County Clare, there are more than 5 km between us. At the moment we are being told we cannot travel between those two locations so there is that difficulty with saying we should open up the air routes because that is what the sector wants. One must balance public opinion and public acceptance of the restrictions which they are being asked to undertake as well. I feel we should be at level 3 and not level 5 but that is a moot point now, and we have moved on from that. There would be very considerable resistance among the public if a person had an issue going from Tulla to Lissycasey because it is outside the 5 km radius but could toddle down to the airport and head off to Spain for a week's holidays. While Mr. Philips is putting forward a very good case for the next phase of recovery, and we should be doing the work now to understand what that framework should look like, in the current climate one could not run the two systems in parallel.

Mr. Dalton Philips

We were here on 7 July and we talked about pre-departure testing, when the country was not at level 2, 3, 4 or 5. I totally understand the sentiment now that we are in level 5 but once we come out of level 5, we need to be ready to go. We need to be pumped, primed and say "Let's go" but we are not.

That is the point I am making, lest those who are watching this committee think that somehow we are suggesting that all this should be taking place in the current restrictions. We are looking at the short to medium term to have our ducks in a row when the suppression rates improve and where NPHET is at a point where it is able to recommend to Government an easing of our domestic restrictions, so that there is some kind of parallel environment that says, "It is okay for me to visit Lizzie Casey again and it is okay to head to wherever in Europe has the same level of the virus as the broader region of Ireland". I just wanted to put it in context.

I believe there is agreement across the board that we need a framework. If we had this framework and rapid antigen testing or whatever types of testing tomorrow, we still would not have a huge number of flights. I accept that the aviation sector has an argument for what it terms the "lost period", but we are where we are at this point in time. I believe there is a worry about getting harmonisation across Europe. The witnesses have spoken on the difficulties the sector is having and about ensuring the sector has the capacity to operate afterwards. There needs to be a straight conversation on what the sector is asking for now. With the best will in the world, and even if all this was put in place, the sector will probably not experience significant travel until next summer. Hopefully, that will be in a period when vaccines will start to roll out, combined with having proper antigen testing.

Mr. Dalton Philips

We just need clarity on what the next steps are. The European Union framework was adopted two weeks ago.

The messaging has been bad.

Mr. Dalton Philips

We are hearing about 8 November. What is happening on 8 November so we can scale up for it and be ready? We are 58 days away from Christmas. That is the number one ask in the short term. For the medium term we need liquidity support for the sector. Cork Airport will just run out of cash and I am sure Ms Considine will be in the same situation at Shannon Airport, but I will let her speak on that.

Okay, a testing regime and money.

I am sorry to have to dip in and out of the meeting, such is the nature of Covid-19. Mr. Philips referred to the liquidity ask with regard to Dublin and Cork Airports. I ask the same question of Ms Considine.

I want to also ask about the risks associated with flying. Earlier we discussed the argument that the risk is minimal. I believe it is a question of managing the risk. There is far greater opportunity in having a frank conversation on it and saying there are risks associated with it. That is why we have quarantines. It is about managing those risks. It is far better to be tested negative getting onto the plane than a one in 27 million chance of getting Covid while on the plane. This stresses the need for testing. How quickly could we deliver testing at the airport if we decided today that it was going to happen and if we decided on a methodology, perhaps PCR now and then moving to rapid antigen testing when people are satisfied that this is sufficient? On the threshold of greater than 80% clinical sensitivity, I would make the point that there are many rapid antigen tests that meet this bar while sometimes PCR tests do not meet the bar. This is what we are dealing with. If these measures were to be implemented how quickly could testing be done at airports? Will Ms Considine also comment on the liquidity demands of Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports?

On foot of that, have the airport groups had discussions with Government and the Departments on their liquidity requirements?

Ms Mary Considine

I am happy to take the question. Once we have clarity on the testing protocols we should be ready to go in a matter of days. It is critical that we get clarity on the type of testing. Ideally, we would all like the rapid antigen testing, but failing that we are ready to go with PCR testing. It needs to be clarified quickly. We have already talked at length on that today.

On the liquidity, our revenues are down on average €1.3 million per week since the onset of the pandemic. This is extremely significant for an entity of our size. While we have taken measures to reduce costs and reserve liquidity, it is now critical in light of the slow recovery envisaged for the industry and given the recent announcements by Ryanair on closing its bases through the winter and Aer Lingus not resuming its services from Shannon until the summer schedule of next year. At this stage we have only one confirmed US carrier for next year, which is American Airlines, but this is all dependent on how the virus evolves between now and then and where we are with the vaccine. There is a huge number of variables and that is why we need clarity on the supports we are going to get from Government. We hope that the national economic plan in November will address that. It is really urgent that we are included in the regional airports' programme, which will provide operational funding as well as capital funding. We need to continue to provide a level of operational facilities such as cargo movements, general aviation transits and a resumption of scheduled traffic, albeit we will not get back up to normal levels of activity. To do all that there is a significant cost to keeping the airport open. This is why operational funding will be very important to sustain us through this recovery.

Mr. Dalton Philips

We can get up and running in a matter of days, we just need the planning exemption. On liquidity, the Cork Airport situation is acute. Dublin Airport's situation is slightly different whereby we are using up all our capital reserves that we had put aside and apportioned for infrastructure development to help fuel Dublin's economy, and I would argue Ireland's economy. All the money that was reserved for infrastructure is now being depleted on operating costs because we are losing €1 million a day. The challenge there is that we will need new infrastructure to bounce back out from Covid and Brexit. That money is being wasted, or being used up, keeping the airport alive, so to speak. We have shared all this with the Government.

I thank Mr. Philips, Ms Considine and Mr. MacCarthy for their engagement with the committee. We will have follow-on hearings next week with the Chief Medical Officer and chairman of NPHET, Dr. Holohan, and with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, around the whole area of testing and the HIQA report. I hope the witnesses will tune into it. The committee will then issue a report.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.58 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Tuesday, 3 November 2020.