Thursday, 18 May 2006
I wish to discuss an airspace change proposal currently before the Irish Aviation Authority. The proposal was prepared by consultants for Weston Limited in conjunction with the Irish Aviation Authority, the Irish Air Corps and Dublin Air Traffic Control. The Irish Aviation Authority, which was party to the drawing up of the proposal, will decide whether to approve the proposal so it is valid to ask whether it will be impartial in its judgement.
The proposal seeks to add instrument control to Weston Aerodrome in conjunction with visual control for take-off and landings. It proposes that, for the first time, night flying be allowed and it will permit Air Corps airspace, or part of it, to be used when it is not active by Weston. The proposal states that stakeholders have been consulted but I suggest that it is vested interests which have been consulted rather than stakeholders. The local authorities and the surrounding communities were not consulted and found out about the proposal by accident.
The only conclusion that can be drawn from reading the proposal is that the intention is to intensify use at the aerodrome. The local view is that a commercial airport is being introduced by stealth. Many people in the surrounding towns of Lucan, Leixlip, Celbridge and Maynooth do not trust Weston Limited because of a litany of unauthorised developments and uses, some of which were the subject of enforcement notices and one of which resulted in the owner of the company facing proceedings in the High Court last summer. Weston Limited has not complied with the order made against it. People wonder why a company which has not complied with a High Court order is being entertained by State authorities.
When Kildare County Council was in the process of producing its development plan last year, it consulted different parties because the aerodrome straddles two local authority areas. According to a letter sent by the Department of Defence to Kildare County Council:
As the Department understands it, the proposal to make use of, inter alia, the paved stopway/clearway would in fact be an actual extension to the runway at Weston. This would constitute an unauthorised use of the facilities and would be contrary to the planning permission granted.
The letter then goes on:
Against this background, it would be entirely inappropriate for this Department to enter into formal discussions with Weston with a view to agreeing procedures, which might then be seen to legitimise the use and operation of what we understand is an unauthorised development or unauthorised use of a facility. In the event that Weston did apply for planning permission or retention for its runway extension, I understand that the GOC Air Corps, in his role as Director of Military Aviation, would have a major problem in relation to the larger aircraft which could then land, and more particularly, take off from Weston, as their requisite flight path would compromise the safety of the flight paths currently used by the Air Corps into Baldonnel.
Since this letter was sent to Kildare County Council, a High Court order has been issued against Weston Limited with which it has not complied. When airspace is widened, different ground support services are required. Neither of the two local authorities concerned has been consulted. In a landmark decision of 8 December 2005, An Bord Pleanála ruled that if larger aeroplanes were to operate at Weston Aerodrome or the use of the aerodrome were to be intensified, further planning permission would be required.
The local view is that none of the agencies involved in the matter — the two local authorities, the Departments of Transport, Defence and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; and the Irish Aviation Authority — is taking control. It appears to local people that if a company has enough money, wants something badly enough and forges ahead with its plan, it will eventually receive what it is looking for. As a result, there is considerable anger in the communities surrounding the aerodrome.
I am aware of the concerns of local people about developments at Weston Aerodrome. However, I must deal with the facts and address this issue primarily from a transport perspective and, in particular, from a safety perspective.
It is not appropriate to say the Irish Aviation Authority, the Department of Defence and Weston Limited have combined to consider this matter. These are three separate bodies with very different roles. Weston Limited, as the owner of the aerodrome, is fully entitled to make proposals to the Irish Aviation Authority concerning the regulation of airspace at the aerodrome. The Department of Defence has an interest in the matter because of the close proximity of Baldonnel Aerodrome to Weston and the need to ensure the safe management of flying at both aerodromes.
The Irish Aviation Authority is the body responsible for issuing aerodrome licences and is responsible for the regulation of safety at civilian aerodromes and the general safety and efficiency of aviation in this country. The authority deals with these matters independently in accordance with its statutory mandate. As the statutory body responsible for airspace design, the authority received the airspace change proposal from Weston Limited. The proposal requested a change in the airspace from class G to class C. I understand the basis of the application is that it would enhance safety in the airspace involved. The classification of airspace as class C requires permission for entry from air traffic control and, when operating within such airspace, all flights are subject to air traffic control.
The airspace change proposal was developed by Weston Aerodrome. In its role as safety regulator, the authority facilitated discussion between the various air traffic services in the Dublin area and dealt with queries and other matters in connection with the application. This is a normal feature of the authority's role to ensure that the highest standards of aviation safety are achieved. The Irish Aviation Authority has recently completed public consultations in respect of this proposal. It is not legally obliged to consult on airspace changes but it considered it appropriate to do so on this occasion in the interests of transparency.
I understand the matter received wide publicity in the media and that a large number of submissions were received on foot of these public consultations, including from local residents' interests. The IAA is currently assessing and considering the content of the submissions received. Whatever decision it may take in respect of the airspace change proposal, it will not relieve Weston from complying with the full range of planning requirements.
South Dublin County Council and Kildare County Council are responsible for land use and planning at and in the vicinity of Weston. Planning decisions take account of the nature and extent of operations at the aerodrome and their impact, including noise, in the locality. Environment impact statements are also part of the planning process administered by the local authorities. My Department has no statutory role in any of these areas.