Thursday, 15 October 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
It is indeed a critical and serious issue not only for Cork and Limerick but the whole region and country. We need international connectivity and our aviation sector so I thank the Deputies for raising the issue.
Ryanair's decision to close its bases at Cork and Shannon airports for the winter is very disappointing. Unfortunately, the closure of these bases is part of a wider decision by Ryanair to cut capacity on its flights right across Europe. We should note today that Ryanair is also closing its Toulouse base for the winter and making significant base aircraft cuts in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Vienna. Indeed, given the low forward booking rates to the end of this year being experienced by airlines right across Europe, this development is not entirely unexpected. According to the latest Eurocontrol data, these reductions in services are consistent with trends across Europe as we head into the winter season. In the circumstances, most airlines are now reducing capacity and Ryanair is no different, although it remains the busiest carrier.
This is, of course, a commercial decision for Ryanair and it is understood that the airline will continue to serve Cork and Shannon airports, although with fewer destinations served and reduced frequencies. The Government recognises that today's news will be a blow to staff at Cork and Shannon airports, Ryanair staff and other affected workers, and the wider regions involved. Cork and Shannon airports have excellent management teams in place and are doing all that is possible in difficult circumstances. The efforts made by staff and management to date are acknowledged and fully appreciated by the Government.
The Government is fully alert to the devastating impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on international travel and appreciates and acknowledges the important role of Ryanair and Shannon and Cork airports to the economies of the mid-west and south regions, respectively. While it is often said, it is worth repeating that as an island nation Ireland is particularly dependent on air connectivity, both socially and economically. Aviation plays a critical role in our economy. Cork and Shannon airports are key players in delivering high-quality international connectivity in their respective regions. The Government fully recognises this and is committed to ensuring that both airports are well positioned to aid our recovery and continue to play their parts in maintaining Ireland's core strategic connectivity into the future.
Unfortunately, it is expected that it will be some time before it is possible to permit a large-scale return to air travel. The Government is committed to ensuring appropriate supports are in place to allow the aviation sector to maintain the necessary core capability to maintain strategic connectivity and respond quickly when circumstances allow.
Budget 2021 included a provision of €10 million to help to address the challenges facing Cork and Shannon airports. This is in addition to the €6.1 million in emergency funding provided to Shannon Airport in June this year to complete a safety and security project.
Airports generally, as well as the airlines, will continue to benefit from the economy-wide support measures that the Government put in place at the beginning of the pandemic for companies of all sizes, including those in the aviation sector. Companies can avail of grants, low-cost loans, waivers of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. Larger companies, including those in the aviation sector, can apply for liquidity support through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund pandemic stabilisation and recovery fund. Ryanair and airports around the country, including those at Cork and Shannon, have been able to avail of some of those measures, in particular the Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme, the Covid-19 unemployment payment, the commercial rates waiver and deferred tax liabilities.
The Government has agreed to adopt the EU traffic light system for international travel and a decision on how we are going to implement this new system is expected to be taken at a Cabinet meeting next Tuesday. As it has in the past, the Government will seek to ensure an appropriate balance between allowing travel and protecting public health. The goal is to give airlines and the travelling public certainty as to what they need to do to be able to travel.
While the decision by Ryanair to close its bases at Cork and Shannon airports for the winter is a commercial decision, it is hoped that the measures already put in place by the Government, from which Ryanair has benefited, and the further measures being considered as part of our response to the coronavirus pandemic will help all players in the aviation sector to return to growth in the not too distant future.