Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 June 2007

3:00 pm

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Question 2: To ask the Minister for Transport and the Marine his views on the long-term development of the State airports sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18286/07]

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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The Government's objective with regard to aviation policy is to facilitate and encourage as wide a range as possible of reliable, regular and competitive commercial air services to maximise opportunities for Irish tourism, trade and industry. The State airports have a vital role in this overall policy and will be restructured as independent airport authorities under the State Airports Act 2004 to realise their full potential to serve the needs of their customers and their respective catchment areas, and to encourage balanced regional development.

Overall passenger growth at the State airports has increased significantly in recent years. In 2006 total traffic reached 27.8 million passengers and growth at Dublin, Shannon and Cork amounted to 40% for Dublin, 55% for Shannon and 61% for Cork for the period since 2002. With traffic of 21.2 million passengers in 2006, Dublin Airport remains crucial to the national economy as a vital strategic component of national infrastructure.

In line with the aviation action plan adopted by the Government in May 2005, the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, will be investing €2 billion in new facilities at the airport over the next decade to radically improve the passenger experience. More than half of this will be invested between now and the end of 2009 and it will deliver a new departures facility, pier D, due to open this autumn and an extension to the existing terminal, to be completed in autumn 2008, as well as terminal 2. The DAA is focused on meeting the Government deadline of the end of 2009 for terminal 2 but this is dependent on a timely and favourable planning decision from An Bord Pleanála.

Shannon and Cork airports are key airports in their respective catchment areas. They are close to significant population bases and facilitate direct air services to many international locations. Both are therefore important contributors to the development of their respective regional economies and under the framework of the State Airports Act 2004, I believe Shannon and Cork have the potential to sustain this major role in the future.

In keeping with the programme for Government I will shortly be bringing an economic and tourism plan to Government to assist in strengthening Shannon's role in the region, taking account of the airport's future challenges, including the open skies agreement.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Currently there is a general drift with regard to our State airports in terms of the Government aviation policy. If there is a long-term vision it is so distant that it is invisible to us all.

I am pleased a redundancy package has finally been agreed in Shannon but the reality is the airport is ill prepared for the open skies agreement. It is already losing out to Knock, and both Cork and Shannon are in a position where they cannot have any independence and are not masters of their own fate. There has been no move to set them up as separate authorities. The issue of whether Cork will have to carry its debt still appears to be up in the air. An announcement was made prior to the election but that seemed to be questioned by Deputies during the election campaign.

The future of those two airports is completely uncertain as they are not masters of their own fate. The focus is off what they should be trying to do, which the Minister has correctly indicated is to attract business into Ireland to ensure we have competitive additional routes and see that we are not dependent on the two major airlines.

It is already clear that the new terminal for Dublin Airport will not be ready by 2009 as it still does not have planning permission. Given that we know how long the planning system takes, will the Minister proceed with the planning process for a third terminal at Dublin Airport and allow the planning for it to commence at this stage? This would be the third privately run terminal. We might have a chance of making progress there.

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I would not take as pessimistic a view as the Deputy of our airports and aviation policy generally. Undoubtedly there are difficulties but an action plan has been in place since May 2005 and on which work is progressing.

In regard to Shannon Airport, my predecessor prepared that airport as best he could for what would happen. He gave signals long in advance of what would happen in regard to the open skies policy. The first task Shannon must undertake is to produce a business plan.

That action plan specifically addressed the uncompetitive cost base of Shannon. As the Deputy rightly said, a severance package has now been put in place which will remove costs of approximately €10 million per annum. That process is moving forward in a positive way.

A debt issue still exists in regard to Cork Airport. I do not know how long it will take for the message to get through but the policy that was in place prior to and during the general election remains in place after the general election. I will make that clear to Cork Airport during the round of meetings I will have during July.

I have outlined the programme of development for Dublin Airport as it moves forward. There are issues that need to be resolved but some of them are outside the control of the Dublin Airport Authority, particularly the planning issue, a process I would certainly like to see in place. As the Deputy will note from my initial reply, I make no secret of the fact that if the planning permission does not come through in a positive manner very quickly, this will cause a delay and that would not be in the national interest. I ask those involved in making that decision to make it as quickly as they possibly can.

On terminal three, the Deputy was right in what she said and I will examine the position. She will appreciate that I am only reading into my brief but I have learned that terminal three will probably be needed by the middle of the next decade. As the Deputy said, it is as well to start thinking in terms of doing something about it now because of these kinds of issues. We will return to it but I will consider commencing the planning process in a positive light.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for that response.