Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions

Use of Irish Airspace and Landing Facilities: (Resumed) Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport

4:00 pm

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

That is not a problem, a Chathaoirligh. My Department seeks the views of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on foreign policy issues and the Department of Justice and Equality on security issues.

The Irish Aviation Authority is consulted on aviation safety issues but only on applications involving munitions that are also categorised as dangerous goods. If any of these bodies objects, an exemption will generally not be granted. A copy of the application is also sent to the Department of Defence for information.

As I have stated, the vast majority of exemptions under the 1973 order are issued to US airlines chartered by the US Department of Defence transporting US troops to various destinations around the globe. Usual international practice is that such troops travel with their personal weapons. The weapons are unloaded and no ammunition is on board the flights. Given the unloaded weapons on board, these flights require an exemption under the 1973 order to enter Irish airspace.

Roughly half of these flights land at Shannon for refuelling purposes, while the rest overfly Ireland. The choice of routing for these flights is a matter for the airlines themselves. Around 90% of the exemptions issued are for civil charters carrying troops, with the personal unloaded weapons of the troops on board. For obvious safety and security reasons there are very strict civil aviation rules regarding the carriage of any dangerous goods on aircraft. Unloaded firearms, however, are not categorised as dangerous goods. Nevertheless, any civil aircraft transporting munitions of war in Irish airspace, irrespective of whether they are categorised as dangerous goods, requires an exemption. In addition, while the dangerous goods rules do not apply to the carriage of unloaded weapons, there are other rules regarding the carriage of unloaded weapons in aircraft to ensure the safety and security of the aircraft.

Approximately 10% of the exemptions are for aircraft carrying munitions of war other than unloaded weapons, such as ammunition and explosives. These are usually transported on cargo-only aircraft and the aircraft transporting such munitions do not usually land in Ireland. Such munitions are of course classified as dangerous goods and are subject to the same strict rules that apply to the many other types of dangerous goods that are transported by air every day.

I hope what I have said today, together with the briefing note provided to the committee, have clarified the role I and my Department play in the issues raised by this petition. I am happy to take any questions committee members may have.


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