Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
The Irish aviation sector is critical to Ireland's economic development by being a key enabler of international trade and business, including foreign direct investment and tourism. However, the impact of Covid-19 on travel is the most challenging crisis in its history. Many analysts are predicting that it will take several years for the sector to return to 2019 levels of activity. While air traffic data for Europe show some recovery, the pace of recovery is still slow in the Irish market, with traffic currently at approximately 50% of 2019 levels.
The Government has put in place a range of supports for businesses, including those in the aviation sector. These supports include: the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS; waiving of commercial rates; deferral of tax liabilities; the Covid restrictions support scheme; the credit guarantee scheme; and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, working capital scheme, with some of these now extended to the end of the year. My Department has estimated that Irish airlines and airports have availed of over €300 million through a number of these supports to date. Furthermore, liquidity funding has been provided through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, pandemic stabilisation and recovery fund, bringing funding to almost €500 million.
As regards supports specifically targeted at the protection of employment, the EWSS has been a key component of the Government's response to Covid-19 and has been extended to the end of the year. In November 2020, in recognition of the difficult circumstances facing the aviation sector, the Government agreed a revised funding package of €80 million specifically for Irish aviation. The European Commission has approved, under state aid rules, a €26 million Irish state aid scheme to compensate airport operators for the losses caused by Covid-19.
The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and I have continued to engage with all aviation stakeholders throughout the Covid crisis, including through the National Civil Aviation Development Forum, NCADF. Separately, the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, brings together representatives of employers and trade unions with Ministers to discuss economic, employment and labour market issues. The LEEF has played an important role during the crisis. In March, a LEEF aviation subgroup was established to consider the needs of the sector. I chair this subgroup and it has held five meetings since March, most recently on 14 September.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The Government's economic recovery plan, published on 1 June, recognised that further targeted supports may be required later in 2021 to assist the restoration of Ireland's air links and to protect jobs in the sector, and my officials are currently considering options in this area.
Most of the recommendations from the aviation recovery task force's final report of July 2020 and the NCADF aviation restart plan of April 2021 have been progressed insofar as practicably possible. For example, non-essential international travel was permitted to resume on 19 July. The EU digital Covid certification system has been successfully introduced in Ireland, wage subsidies have been extended, other targeted financial supports have been made available, slot alleviation measures for airlines have been implemented, and EU Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control protocols for safe air travel have been fully implemented. My Department will forward a report to the Deputy, in tabular format, on the status of the implementation of each of the recommendations from both reports.
Ultimately, I believe the continued successful roll-out of the vaccination programme and reduced risk of transmission of the virus will provide the basis for the return of consumer confidence and an increase in forward bookings. With continued support from the Government during the coming months, the sector will be well placed for strong recovery next year.