I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 162 of 28 January 2004. Negotiations have begun between the European Commission and the US authorities to establish an EU-US open aviation area agreement. The third round of those negotiations will take place in Washington next month. Officials of my Department met with the Aer Rianta unions on a number of occasions late last year to hear their views on this matter.
I consider it appropriate for any changes that occur in this area to be on a phased basis over a number of years. To protect the Irish position and with a view to securing new US routes for Aer Lingus as well as taking account of the developing EU-US negotiations, I have authorised my officials to seek negotiations with the US so both sides can discuss arrangements for any possible phased amendments to the Ireland-US bilateral agreement. Negotiations have not yet commenced.
In January, I wrote to SIPTU and ICTU regarding,inter alia, the dual gateway status of Shannon and I confirmed my commitment to renew direct engagement with them to seek to work out a means of best addressing the challenges arising for Shannon Airport. I will also consult further with the board designate of Shannon Airport about this issue.