Dáil debates

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020: Second Stage (Resumed)

 

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

4:00 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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As the Minister of State said, this Bill introduces institutional reform of the Irish aviation regulatory system and will allow for the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, to merge its own aviation and safety regulatory functions with the economic and consumer protection roles of the Commission for Aviation Regulation, CAR, to create a single regulator. It also separates the for-profit air navigation service activities of the IAA into a stand-alone commercial semi-State body.

As currently structured, the Irish Aviation Authority has a dual mandate, providing both commercial air traffic control services and regulation of airline security and safety, including regulating airlines and IAA's air traffic control services. This system is largely an outlier in a European and international context and there is a growing legal obligation to separate these two powers. With the separation of commercial and non-commercial services, it is important that the Department provides sufficient resources for this transition at the offset. Given the effects of the pandemic, many avenues of income for the industry have been removed.

When this Bill was presented at committee in 2019, little concern was given at the time to the viability of the new commercial State agency, with aviation then being a growing and profitable industry. The figures given at the time stated that of the €200 million in revenue per year seen by the air traffic control provider, €122 million came from en routeservices. These were transatlantic flights which did not land in Ireland. Figures released by the IAA in November stated that en routetraffic was down by 61.9%. If enough resources are not given at the offset to allow for the change of bodies, it will be very difficult to scale up to what is needed.

The aviation sector faces severe challenges with the impact of Covid-19 and the climate crisis. According to the IAA, Ireland’s air traffic declined by 63.3% in 2020. Dublin Airport's traffic declined by 74.5%, Cork Airport's by 79.4%, and Shannon Airport's by 68%. European airports have been hardest hit by the global crisis in the aviation industry brought on by Covid-19.

I want to speak about consumer protection. As part of this merger, the IAA will now take on the consumer protection obligations of the Commission for Aviation Regulation. The commission, which will now fall under the IAA, deals with consumer complaints regarding airline refunds and has stated that it has received more than 4,000 complaints regarding flight refunds from all airlines since the beginning of the pandemic. Under 80% of these have been resolved.

The Commission for Aviation Regulation told the transport committee in 2009 that it had a total of 17 staff and highlighted its need to increase capacity, particularly on the consumer protection front. The British consumer magazine Which? Travelrecently analysed more than 12,000 complaints about flight refunds and found that four out of ten of these were about Ryanair. Eight out of ten customers were dissatisfied with Ryanair's refund services after their flights were cancelled last year.

Under EU directives, flight refunds for cancelled flights should be paid back within a week. An incredible amount of flights were cancelled last year, leaving customers fighting with airlines to receive refunds to which they were entitled. A third of the respondents to the UK magazine survey waited more than three months for their refund. None of them received their refund during the legal timeframe.

The Irish Travel Agents Association, ITAA, highlighted the issue earlier this week, detailing the trouble travel agents continue to have while trying to access flight refunds. ITAA member travel agents are currently owed approximately €20 million in refunds from one company alone, which is Ryanair.

Under the EU directive, refunds are only available when the flight has been cancelled, not when the customers choose not to travel. Under the continuing restrictions, many individuals have correctly chosen to be responsible and cancel their flights for non-essential travel. Many of these ghost flights have gone ahead, however, with few or no passengers on board. The refusal to cancel these flights means customers have been unable to access refunds. With the current state of the pandemic and the restrictions on non-essential travel, these flights should not be taking place.

In terms of environmental issues, airport charges will be a particular concern for the IAA going forward. In 2019, the Commission for Aviation Regulation ruled that the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, should cut the levy it charges airlines to an average of €7.87 per passenger over the period from 2020 to 2024. The body has already committed to reviewing these cuts in light of Covid-19.

Part 9 of this Bill amends the regulation of airport charges in Ireland and outlines the lead objective in determining airport charges to the interests of the customer. The briefing note for this Bill states that all other objectives cascade down from this lead objective. The policies of the Government on climate change are listed 11th out of 12 on the list in terms of consumer considerations. I really want to ask why climate change is 11th out of 12? Why is it not high up, if not top, of the list? I do not understand that. I ask the Minister of State to address it.

Airports across the world are dropping airline and passenger charges in an effort to attract airlines and passengers back. We need to support the recovery of the aviation industry. Post Covid, however, we will need greater consideration of the environmental cost of the aviation strategy, which will see an increase in flight and passenger numbers.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, ICAO, estimates there were 4.5 billion air passengers globally in 2019, with each year since 2009 breaking a new record until last year. While the knock-on effects of the pandemic will no doubt impact on projections for the aviation industry, the International Air Transport Association had previously predicted a rise to 7.2 billion passengers by 2035.

Under a normal year, it is estimated that aviation consumes 5 million barrels of oil every day, contributing somewhere between 2% to 5% of total global emissions. Calculating its exact impact is complex, as greenhouse gases released at high altitude have different effects than those emitted at ground level. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, had warned that Ireland's aviation emissions were increasing sharply. An economy class return flight from Dublin to New York emits an estimated 0.56 tonnes of CO2per passenger. As other sectors of the economy were becoming greener, utilising more clean energy, pre-pandemic aviation's proportionate total emissions had been set to rise. Emissions from planes had been rising rapidly, increasing by 32% globally between 2013 and 2018. Gradual improvements in fuel efficiency are welcome but they had been nowhere near enough to address the rapid increase in total passenger numbers that had been ongoing.

In October 2016, 191 nations agreed a UN accord which aims to cut global aviation carbon emissions to 2020 levels by 2035. Another ambitious target of that agreement is for the aviation industry to achieve a 50% carbon emission reduction by 2050 compared with 2005 levels. The industry intends to achieve these things through carbon offsetting in the short-term, the continued development of more efficient aeroplanes, deeper investment in sustainable fuels such as biofuels and through better route efficiency. Offsetting helps, but only partially. A recent study by the European Commission found that 85% of offset projects it had evaluated actually failed to reduce emissions.

If we want to be serious about addressing the climate crisis, cutting our emissions and reaching the targets to which we have committed, then we need to consider climate as a top priority in all aspects of decision-making in the aviation industry and not as an afterthought. I believe it should be top of the list of considerations and not 11th out of 12.

I have huge concerns about the aviation industry right now in terms of jobs and the thousands of families who are in a precarious situation and who are extremely worried, especially in the past month, given that we will not get the recovery in air travel we might have hoped for earlier in this pandemic. They understand the public health situation we are in and that there will not be that early recovery many would have hoped for.

There is a lot of concern that the kind of resilience that has gotten our airline industry this far is coming under increased pressure. It is welcome that the Minister of State has said that if more needs to be done, it will be done but I have to say that the people who have been in contact with me and who work in the aviation industry and in airlines are strongly of the view that more needs to be done now. They are fearful that if more is not done quickly and urgently and on the sort of scale we have seen from other European governments, there will not be the kind of aviation industry we need as an island in terms of our connectivity and of its strategic importance. I am sure the Minister of State agrees with me on.

One must look at the state aid that has been given to airlines and authorised by the European Commission since the pandemic started. The figures published by the European Commission on state aid approval as of 23 December 2020 show the following: in Austria, Austria Airlines was given €150 million; in Belgium, Brussels Airlines was given €290 million; in Croatia, Croatia Airlines was given €12 million; in Denmark, SAS was given €583 million; in Estonia, Nordica was given €30 million; in Finland, Finnair was given €286 million; in France, Corsair International was given €137 million and Air France was given €7 billion; in Germany, Condor was given €550 million and Lufthansa was given €9 billion; in Greece, Aegean Airlines was given €120 million; in Italy, Alitalia was given €199 million; in Latvia, airBaltic was given €250 million; in Poland, LOT Polish airlines was given €650 million; in Portugal, SATA Air Açores was given €133 million and TAP Air Portugal was given €1.2 billion; in Romania, Blue Air was given €62 million; and in Sweden, SAS was given €486 million. When almost €25 billion in state aid had been given to airlines and approved by the EU Commission, the corresponding figure for Ireland was zero.

It is worth noting that none of these 16 countries are islands and none of them have the kind of reliance on aviation that we have as an island country and economy. The lack of direct support given in Ireland, in comparison with other European countries is glaring and of huge concern to everyone who is working in the industry. The commitment the Government gave was that if more needs to be done, it will be done. Now is the time to deliver on that commitment.

4:10 pm

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin Bay North, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad that this Bill has reached Second Stage in the Dáil. The proposed provisions of the Bill were the subject of prelegislative scrutiny in the last Dáil. I am aware that the relevant stakeholders are anxious to have the Bill enacted as soon as possible. This Bill is a reforming one, as has been said, and is a consequence of the national aviation policy, published in 2015, which included a commitment to restructure the regulatory functions of the Irish Aviation Authority and the Commission for Aviation Regulation. The Bill takes into account developments in the EU and international best practice. In addition to this, an independent review of the Irish regulatory regime in respect of airport charges was conducted and concluded in 2017. Subsequently, in September 2017, a national policy statement on the review of airport charges was published. This made the case for the reform of aviation regulation as well.

The Bill establishes a single regulator for safety, security and economic regulation, as well as consumer protection, to be known as the Irish Aviation Authority. In addition, the Bill separates out for-profit air navigation services into a new commercial State company to be known as the Irish air navigation service. The Bill, therefore, is overdue and reflects ongoing developments in aviation regulation practices internationally, as the Minister of State has said.

I would like to raise some general issues concerning aviation. Because of Covid-19 and restrictions on international travel, the Irish aviation sector and our airlines are experiencing serious difficulties. These difficulties are outlined in the PwC Ireland report on the 2021 outlook for the aviation industry, published last month. Irish aviation employees have taken significant pay cuts and others have been the subject of involuntary redundancies. Many are on the PUP or have been put on the employment wage subsidy scheme. I am aware that Aer Lingus employees have faced enormous difficulties in claiming social welfare benefits due to problems in getting forms signed in the airline. The PUP and the employment wage subsidy scheme must be extended for these employees for as long as the crisis continues. These employees also need an extension of mortgage breaks for another 12 months, without impacting on their credit worthiness. I would also argue that the Government must consider providing meaningful financial support for our indigenous airlines in order to avoid structural collapse. Other national governments have done this, as we have heard, so why can we not do this here in Ireland?

There is also the ongoing matter of Ryanair giving refunds to passengers who booked flights and paid for them, only to have them cancelled due to Covid-19. I have heard Michael O'Leary of Ryanair state on many occasions that all refunds have been paid, yet a number of constituents are in touch with me to say they are still awaiting refunds. This is also causing problems for travel agents. Something is not adding up here and I am not accusing anybody of anything but I would just like to know the position, given the conflicting statements. Can the Minister of State get onto the Commission for Aviation Regulation and insist that it make the airline refund passengers and enforce the EU regulation on this matter?

Aircraft noise in the vicinity of Dublin Airport has also been a concern for many of my constituents but it is not at the moment. I am aware that Fingal County Council has established the aircraft noise competent authority. It has a mandate to assess current and predicted future levels of aircraft noise at Dublin Airport, including noise assessments of future planning applications for development at the airport. I suggest that the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks needs to examine the role of this competent authority, given that it is relatively new, to see how it is functioning. I would also like to support the calls of previous speakers to ensure that the planning issues arising from the proposed new runway are dealt with so that residents have an input to the system.

I want to draw the attention of the Minister of State to plans by the Dublin Airport Authority to install a new drop-off and pick-up zone at Dublin Airport. This is not a good idea and these plans should be scrapped.

I also wish to draw the attention of the Minister of State to the concerns of air traffic controllers employed by the Irish Aviation Authority at Dublin Airport on their superannuation scheme. A submission has been made to the Minister in accordance with section 41 of the Irish Aviation Authority Act 1993. I hope the Minister of State can look at this submission favourably and come to a decision as soon as possible.

I hope that this Bill has a speedy passage through both Houses. The detailed provisions of the Bill can be thrashed out on Committee and Report Stages. There will not be too many problems in dealing with the provisions of the Bill as that legislative process continues.

4:20 pm

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I reiterate what Deputy O'Rourke and other members of my party have said, that we support the Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020 but will bring forward amendments on Committee Stage. We support the Bill on the basis that this is a streamlining of the regulatory system, that is, the Commission for Aviation Regulation being subsumed into the Irish Aviation Authority, and the Institute for Air Navigation Services, IANS, which is the for-profit section, dealing with air navigation services, being paid for through landing charges. This is best practice. Some of our amendments will relate to the fact that we need to make sure it is fit for capacity and is fully resourced. I welcome, as many Members have, the Minister of State's statement that what needs to be done will be done. We merely need to ensure that that happens.

Others have already spoken about consumers' rights. I would add to their voice that we need to ensure that we give capacity to this outfit to be able to deliver. During this pandemic we have seen issues, not only relating to consumers' rights but workers' rights. Deputy O'Reilly brought up the fact that Aer Lingus workers were not able to avail of shorter working week payments because they were not facilitated by Aer Lingus and that we need Government and departmental nous to be brought to bear to fix that retrospectively for workers who have been waiting on some of those payments for quite a considerable amount of time. Others have spoken about the fact that Ryanair has not paid out, particularly on group bookings, some of which are school g7roup bookings. It said it will deal with the individual who paid but there could be varying costs to some of these tickets that were bought in bulk. It is utterly disingenuous of Ryanair. It needs to be sorted. We need to ensure that we give a body such as this the capacity to deal with such issues.

We all accept the absolute necessity of connectivity and of the maintenance of an aviation sector beyond this pandemic. We fully support restrictions and guidelines as well as quarantining, on which there have been calls from my party to ensure happens and becomes a reality as soon as possible.

I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, about dealing with all the stakeholders, be they the airlines, the airports or the representatives of the pilots and the other workers, from the point of view of ensuring we look after their rights and give them the capacity to get through this pandemic so that we have a system and a service that will operate for us afterwards.

We are an island and we have difficulties. I would add that we need to make sure there is transfer of traveller information, North and South, for people coming in so that we can try to put an all-island response together as quickly as possible.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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It is clear that there are deep problems with both of the existing regulatory bodies in aviation, the CAR and the IAA. In theory, amalgamating both in a wide-sweeping change has merit but whether this Bill and the reasoning behind it addresses the weaknesses in both is certainly questionable. Equally, it has long been pointed out by workers and others that IAA was fundamentally compromised in regulating airlines to which it was dependent for its funding. In theory, separating those functions, such as air traffic control, from its safety and other functions and its oversight of those airlines sounds like a good idea. The issue is whether the new authority will regulate in the interests of both workers in the industry and ordinary people in terms of safety, etc., and on that I have concerns.

To start with, the problems with both regulatory authorities are the same with many of the State's other regulatory bodies. They follow a light touch self-regulation model. They fail to enforce the rules and standards that protect people, specifically workers. We have a Health and Safety Authority, for example, that had to be dragged into workplaces during the pandemic, continues to take a hands-off approach when confronted with glaring breaches of safety that threaten workers and even now insists it will not close workplaces in breach of regulations. It cannot determine anything in terms of whether workplaces are essential. It cannot make determinations in terms of workers working from home. One could also go on for a long time about banking and financial regulation in this country or the health services regulator and the failures there. This is across all sectors of the State. We have a light touch, often non-existent, regulatory approach to many business interests because we have one of the most neoliberal states in Europe.

In aviation, we have many reasons to be concerned. We have a Commission for Aviation Regulation responsible for regulating the airlines which has consistently let Ryanair off the hook and which refused to take legal action against the airline when it broke the rules because it did not want to risk it for fear Ryanair would stop co-operating with it. This was three years ago when the airline cancelled thousands of flights. The UK's regulator said the airline had misled its passengers about their consumer rights but the Irish regulators, yet again, were too cosy with Ryanair to notice. Over the past year, we have had Ryanair and others dragging their heels on paying out refunds and little or nothing being done by the regulators. It seems there is one law for the rich and another for the rest of us.

The failures of the IAA to regulate are even more worrying. I will cite two examples. First, despite being repeatedly told by workers in the sector that there are health and safety issues with the work practices of one specific airline it not only failed to examine or take the issues seriously, but attacked a Channel 4 documentary outlining those issues and sided firmly with Ryanair in that dispute. The use of zero-hour contracts, the constant pressure and stress placed on pilots and the use, which, I believe, has been abandoned since, of league tables on pilots fuel use designed to pressurise them into potentially unsafe practices all were deemed not worthy of the regulator's attention.

More worrying is the question mark that remains over the role of the IAA in the tragedy of the Blackrock crash, when four Irish Coast Guard crew tragically died when a helicopter crashed in 2017. Years after that tragedy, relatives and loved ones are still awaiting answers. Why do we still not have the formal report? We are told that the report was sent to interested parties in September 2019, one such party against whom there are adverse findings has raised objections and this is delaying the finalising of the report. This is outrageous. I would ask the Ministe.r to prioritise the publication of the investigation and to act on its findings. At this stage, it is unacceptable that anyone would seek to delay the report's findings coming out. What we know is that there are very serious questions here. A Katie Hannon report on the RTÉ website from 2017 states:

RTÉ’s Prime Time has reported that new maps published by the Irish Aviation Authority contain errors which the authority was alerted to.

Nine days after the R116 crashed into Blackrock Island, the IAA was informed that Sceilg Mhichíl was depicted on their maps. Last July, the IAA told Prime Time that after the discovery of the error, a "review of all other coastal islands was conducted and their data verified.

"No further anomalies of substance were found."

However, there were other substantial anomalies on the maps.

The report goes into detail on a number of those anomalies.

This new body must co-operate fully with the investigators in the air accident unit and aid the publication as soon as possible of the report. It is to be hoped that this new authority can cast aside that past and do the job that, in theory, it is meant to do - protect workers and consumers and ensure safety in aviation.

I will conclude by raising the question of who will head up this authority. Given the problems I have outlined in the past with the IAA and the CAR and their hands-off approach to regulating or being in conflict with the largest airline in this country, I have to ask whether it is appropriate that we appoint as head a person who is a former CEO of Malta Air, a company in the Ryanair group. How on earth can the Government justify appointing a CEO from the Ryanair airline group as the new head? That is not to cast any doubt on the personal qualities of the individual.

At least in terms of perception, though, it looks like a case of asking the fox to guard the hen house.

The pay for the head of this regulator is ludicrous. It was previously reported that the salary would be almost €400,000 per year. Is that still the case?

We have seen the revolving door between the Cabinet table and corporate lobbying, with former Ministers of State now heading up lobbying for so-called investment managers as well as the banks. There is also a revolving door between big business and the regulators. We know that the company involved, Ryanair, has an appalling record of mistreating workers and passengers and putting profits before safety, yet one of its former senior people is now being put in charge of protecting the safety of all passengers and airline workers. It is ludicrous. This is just another example of the cosy relationship between the regulators and those they are meant to be regulating. We saw where that got us in terms of the banks. Yet again, we have a Government that is in the pockets of the rich putting profit before people.

These are not historical issues. During the Covid pandemic, Ryanair launched an attack on trade union members. It sacked several for union activity, tore up workers' contracts and took an appallingly cavalier attitude towards health and Covid measures. I do not at all blame the particular individual for that or for Mr. O'Leary's more outrageous attacks on public health advice, but I question the appropriateness of the State appointing a person from a business group that has aggressively dismissed public health concerns and sacked trade union members.

I welcome that climate policies will be a new consideration of the authority, but this and the implications for airport charges and so on need to be spelled out more explicitly in the Bill.

4:30 pm

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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This is a difficult time for the aviation industry. I wish to discuss a number of concerns that have been raised with me by constituents in recent weeks. They are worried about the future of the aviation sector in Ireland, the continued lockdown and the impact of Covid-19 on the sector's financial viability. They have raised with me their genuinely held concerns that if airlines are not financially supported, they will abandon routes to and from this country, leaving us less connected internationally. As a small, open economy that is highly dependent on international trade, foreign direct investment and tourism, this cannot be allowed to happen. We need an aviation industry that is intact and ready to take off to assist with the economic recovery that will follow this difficult time.

Our airlines rely on summer bookings to make enough money to tide them over the loss-making winter season. The loss of a second consecutive summer season after an entire year of practically zero revenue will prove fatal for airlines that have already decimated their cash reserves. Reports suggest that Aer Lingus alone has been losing approximately €1 million per day since last April, some 300 days ago.

Our airlines are intrinsic to the success of our island nation and their routes supply our economic lifeblood, bringing foreign direct investment and an estimated €10 billion into the economy annually. Every aircraft that leaves Ireland will represent lost jobs and lost GDP. It is an economic fact that if our airlines are allowed to go out of business, the consequences for the economy will be devastating. The UK Government provided a loan worth €670 million to Ryanair, an Irish airline, such was the value it placed on Ryanair's contribution to the UK's economy.

The window remaining for decisive action is fast closing. Airlines plan and budget for their important summer schedules at this time of year. They will soon have to make difficult decisions based on expected market conditions. Airline owners will not allow yet another lost summer. The potential remains that they will cut their losses.

If international travel must be suppressed in future - it must be for the health of our people - then financial support for Irish airlines must be considered. If the Government acts to suppress travel, it must also act to save these vital routes, which connect us to the rest of the world.

Photo of Cathal BerryCathal Berry (Kildare South, Independent)
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I will be sharing time with Deputy Shanahan with approximately 15 minutes for me before I hand over to him for the last five minutes.

I thank the Minister of State for attending the Chamber to introduce the Air Navigation and Transport Bill. It is important legislation, in that it upgrades and modernises the regulatory framework for the aviation sector and brings us back in line with our European peers. It is long overdue and, therefore, very welcome. I look forward to supporting its passage through the Dáil.

The Bill is important because the aviation sector is important, particularly to this country. If one were to ask anyone in the country what the most important industry here was, he or she would probably point to the large technology firms around Dublin or the large pharmaceutical companies in Cork, but not many people recognise how important and large the aviation sector is on our island home. As the Minister of State pointed out, Ireland is a major hub for aircraft leasing across the world. Europe's largest airline, for all its imperfections, is headquartered in Ireland. Not only that, but Irish citizens dominate the boardrooms of airlines across the world from Etihad Airways to Qantas in Australia. From an Irish perspective, we are punching above our weight.

Ireland is the global hub of the airline industry, but apart from the commercial aspects, we have a major historical and societal connection with it. A little more than 100 years ago, Alcock and Brown landed in a bog in Clifden. We have had an affection for and association with the airline industry as a result. We are fascinated by it, and that is a good thing. I mention this because it is the context in which our debate should be held. Aviation is important to this country.

I will raise three points with the Minister of State in the time available to me. The first will relate to Aer Lingus, the second to the security and safety aspects of the sector and the third to funding options for enhancing the public sector's ability to provide the safety and security services listed in the Bill.

Regarding Aer Lingus, I was happy to hear the Minister of State's comments about the potential for additional support if required. I am sure she is well aware that the company is under considerable and acute financial liquidity stress, and for good reason - it is complying with the laws issued by Dáil Éireann, in that it is reducing its level of passenger transport in and out of the country. I fully understand the commercial realities, in that the State is no longer a significant or formal shareholder in the company, but I believe that we still have a financial responsibility, and definitely a moral responsibility, to its staff. Whatever the corporate arrangements, Aer Lingus is for all intents and purposes still Ireland's national carrier. Every time an aircraft with a shamrock on its tail fin lands at any airfield in the world, it is promoting and advertising Ireland. The company also flies hundreds of thousands of visitors into the country annually in a normal year, be they business leaders or just tourists coming to spend some time in Ireland. There is a symbiotic relationship between the airline and this country. Aer Lingus's survival is important from Ireland's perspective. The time for a financial intervention is here.

I was happy to hear the Minister of State's suggestion and that she has an open mind towards additional financial support. May I be so bold as to offer three suggestions that she might wish to consider? Other European countries have bailed out their national flag carriers. If it is good enough for Germany, it is certainly good enough for Ireland. Perhaps taking an equity stake in the airline is a possibility to get it through the acute financial situation it will be in over the next few months, but I appreciate the state aid constraints that might apply to a financial bailout from a loan or equity perspective. As such, I will offer two further options. It is acknowledged that the State needs a strategic aircraft to move its people around.

It could very easily be flown by the Air Corps and it could be used on a cross-governmental basis. For instance, the Department of Foreign Affairs could use an aircraft to evacuate Irish citizens from abroad, which it has done a number of times over the past 12 months, Irish Aid could very easily use an aircraft to transport aid overseas, and the HSE could use an aircraft to pick up personal protective equipment or to move casualties from one hospital to another internationally. The State recognises, and the former Taoiseach and current Tánaiste also recognised approximately 12 months ago in the Dáil, that we need a national strategic aircraft for this purpose. If Aer Lingus has so many surplus aircraft on the ground unused at present, would it not make sense for the State to purchase one of these aircraft from it for this purpose? The stars are aligning from this point of view. We should seize the day. It is in the interests of Aer Lingus and Ireland. My question to the Minister of State is: what are we waiting for?

We could use Aer Lingus more effectively to rotate Irish peacekeeping troops abroad. There are three return rotation flights due between Dublin and Beirut international airport in the next three months. I cannot remember the last time Aer Lingus was used to rotate Irish troops. This would be a wonderful opportunity to provide some liquidity support to Aer Lingus via commercial means. Instead of Irish troops being flown home by unreliable airlines that do not have the same reliability or punctuality requirements, Aer Lingus should certainly be used if at all possible. Even in the short term, if it cannot be used to rotate Irish troops from Beirut in the next three months perhaps we could look at entering a longer-term service level agreement over a five to ten year time horizon, whereby Aer Lingus could be used preferentially to rotate our peacekeeping troops. It could be paid upfront to provide this service. These are three suggestions with regard to Aer Lingus that the Minister of State might wish to consider. Obviously she will have to discuss the matter with her Defence Cabinet colleagues, namely, the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, and the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. I would be grateful for the Minister of State's thoughts on these suggestions, perhaps when she wraps up next week.

The next broad theme I would like to discuss is with regard to the comments in the Bill on safety and security. It is a major issue for the country because there is an obligation on every nation state to be able to police its land, territorial waters and airspace. With regard to policing our airspace we are hugely negligent. There is a major gap in our security from this perspective. It is probably something we should look at filling, particularly when we are discussing it with regard to the Bill. We have no primary military grade radar. We are unique in Europe as of the EU 27 we are the only country that does not have this capability and it needs to be addressed. We do have secondary civilian radar but once the transponder of an aircraft is turned off we have no sight and no visibility with regard to where it is. Not only is it a flight security issue, it is certainly also a flight safety issue that needs to be addressed. There is a commitment in the 2015 White Paper on defence to purchase a primary radar system for the country but we have yet to see one materialise. Perhaps it is something the Minister of State might wish to discuss with her Cabinet colleagues.

We have no intercept and escort capability whatsoever. It is just ourselves and Malta in Europe that do not have this capability. If an unidentified aircraft, a hijacked aircraft, a rogue aircraft or a smuggling type aircraft enters Irish airspace we have no means whatsoever to intercept it and escort it through our service. This is a major deficiency. Quite frankly, it is fairly humiliating that we have to use the Royal Air Force in a secret agreement to provide that service. It is a secret agreement for a reason because it is probably unconstitutional and if it were tested in the courts it would probably be found to be so. This is an area on which we have to work.

With regard to personnel in the public service who are involved in safety and security from an airspace perspective, we have no Air Corps reserve. We have an Army Reserve and a Naval Service Reserve but we have no Air Corps reserve due to an historic anomaly. I hope this is something the commission on defence could look at when it makes its report later this year. However, of the 15 people on the commission on defence not one has a background in aviation. This is a blind spot from the commission's perspective that I hope will be addressed by putting on an additional member in the coming weeks.

The next major theme I want to discuss is the funding model we could use to enhance the safety and security of our airspace. The first option is very simple and straightforward, which is to increase the defence Vote. I am very happy to see the defence budget was increased by €32 million this year for 2021. I still have no sight or visibility on where that money will be spent but certainly an investment in the safety and security of our airspace would be a good starting point. Where the Department of Transport comes in is that the Irish Aviation Authority charges navigational fees for every aircraft that travels through Irish airspace and makes a profit of approximately €20 million to €30 million in a normal year without a pandemic. I would be grateful for the Minister of State's thoughts on whether this money could be ring-fenced to support our airspace services. It is the same principle as a toll bridge. People who drive on an Irish motorway pay a toll charge and this money is used to offset the initial investment cost and it is also used for maintenance. It makes sense if we are taxing aircraft that travel through our airspace that the tax is used to protect the aircraft, from a service and security point of view.

Is there any way the Department of Transport could eliminate or reduce excess costs? This is where the search and rescue contract comes in. The company that provides helicopter services to the Coast Guard at present is providing an excellent service and there are wonderful people on board. The problem with the contract is that it is really expensive. For the past ten years it has cost approximately €600 million and negotiations are ongoing for another ten year period from 2023, which could cost up to €1 billion because it will most likely include fixed wing and rotary wing assets. It does not make any sense to invest in a private international firm to provide helicopters for a fixed period of time. It would make much more sense to internalise this capability into a sovereign service provided either by the Coast Guard or the Air Corps. The Air Corps should be tasked with providing this service from 2023 onwards and any gaps the Air Corps cannot meet could very easily be outsourced. A bill of €1 billion is massive. It is equivalent of half the cost of a children's hospital and at the end of the ten years we will have absolutely nothing to show for it. My suggestion, and I give it freely, is to invest in our public services to provide this service rather than to outsource it to an international firm that does not need the additional revenue.

I thank the Minister of State for hearing me out. I will definitely support the Bill as it goes through the Oireachtas. It is something of which I am very much in favour. The issues I covered included financial support for Aer Lingus, if at all possible. The commercial case alone is compelling, let alone the economic case for Ireland. I also mentioned the fact we need to upgrade our airspace safety and security capacity. This needs to be done as soon as possible. I also explored some funding models to take the edge off this cost and make sure it is affordable from Ireland's point of view.

4:40 pm

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to support the passage of the Bill. Institutional reform and restructuring of aviation policy is probably well overdue in this country. I was a member of the Covid committee and we spent quite a number of modules hearing from the aviation sector. We know the crisis in the sector due to Covid and it does not look like there will be any resolution of it soon. I know the Department is probably focused on this and I echo the calls of all Deputies seeking funding and additional grant aid for the airlines as well as to the airports.

Perhaps in the overall aviation sector it is now time to look again at the idea of what is in the programme for Government with regard to regional economic rebalancing in the aviation sector. I am thinking in particular of Waterford airport. The south-east regional airport has been awaiting funding for some time for an extension of the runway so we can accommodate jet traffic. We will certainly need it when the economy is opened up again so we can start to revitalise our tourism offering and business supports in Waterford and the south east.

As Deputy Berry has just mentioned it, I would also like to highlight Rescue 117, which is the funded helicopter service operated by CHC Helicopter for air-sea rescue in the south east. It does tremendous work, particularly in the south-east region. Not only is it tasked with trying to monitor our shorelines but it also does a large number of patient transfers, and has carried out transfers to the UK through the children's hospital. I would like to give a big shout out to Rescue 117. It is supported at Waterford Airport and I hope the funding going into that area in the future will be increased.

As for what other Deputies have said, we can all lament that we no longer have a nationally-funded public carrier. We know the trials of Aer Lingus as part of the International Airlines Group, IAG, and Ryanair, as big as it is, certainly is feeling the great difficulty that exists like everybody else. I hope the Government can step in. Other Deputies referred to the amount of state aid given by other countries in the EU and state aid rules have been relaxed in order to support services. This is something the Minister and the Department need to consider becoming active on pretty soon.

In that light, another look at the importance of the aviation sector is needed. If I recall the figure that was given to me at recent presentations, it makes up about 10% of the economic component of the country when it is fleshed out through the individual services, employment and tourism, because many people travel in and out of the country using air services. Financial aircraft leasing is very big business, as the Minister mentioned, and for years Ireland has been at the absolute centre of global aircraft leasing. Tourism and hospitality are areas in which I and many others have concerns as to how quickly the economy is going to recover and how quickly we can re-establish low-cost fares, which have been the basis of a huge amount of our tourism in recent years. There is now the potential for fare increases and some redundancy of aircraft. I also believe we can soon expect green charges on fuel, which will add to fare costs. Again, I ask the question as to what level of financial supports will be coming from Government to offset those.

With regard to some of the things we could be doing in aviation leadership, I come back to the issue of a pilot training school. We certainly had such a school in Waterford years ago but I am not aware of any specific school now and while there are early pilot training schools, they do not operate to a commercial level and most students have to go to America to finish their training. Now, with modern technology, this is something we should be looking at and trying to support.

With regard to the Defence Forces, what role will this regulator play in regard to future air defence policy and coastline surveillance using the Air Corps?

I also wish to point to an area of development that is coming fast, namely, drone technology and using drones in the area of logistics, as well as in regard to defence and surveillance. Again, this is something to which the Department needs to be alive. There is no reason that Ireland, as we have done in many other areas previously, cannot become a global leader in pursuing some of this technology and some of the ideals of drone technology, which is going to be a ubiquitous service very soon.

I hope we can retain our role in global aircraft leasing and I hope the Government will be forthcoming on all of that. I seek an understanding of where, with the passage of this Bill, the authority will intersect with this activity in the future.

As other Deputies have mentioned, there is horrendous economic pain in the aircraft and aviation sectors with families who are challenged through unemployment and through furlough. Although I am not a Deputy representing Dublin, I am getting quite a number of representations from people who are struggling as their jobs in aviation have been furloughed and they are having great difficulty. This is something about which the Minister can talk to the Departments of Finance and Social Protection to make sure people are tided over. It is very difficult to go from a very high-paying job to a very low-paying support overnight, with all of the costs people incur. We have to remember, as public servants, that we do not suffer those situations but people in the private sector do. I ask the Minister to have a look at that with other Ministers.

4:50 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I am happy to have the opportunity to say a few words on this important legislation on the basis that I once learned to fly aeroplanes and also flew in them. I learned to ride motorbikes as well, but I have to confess I did not fly on a motorbike.

It is important legislation. Regulation and health and safety are issues we need to be aware of and have been aware of since the foundation of the State. There was a reason for that. We were there at the beginning of aviation, and we have a right and a duty to continue on that role that we have inherited. We were there at the beginning because we were the last post en routeacross the Atlantic to the United States, and we were the first post in terms of touchdown on the early flights in reverse. Therefore, we need to realise it is important to update our legislation in this regard.

From a health and safety point of view, and I want to emphasise that aspect, our aviation charts and maps and GPS charts need to be updated on a regular basis to ensure that pilots can rely with absolute certainty on what they see before them, and that they do not have to make a split-second decision that could have been made at their leisure had the adequate facilities been before them. One thing I do from time to time, especially in the past six months or so, is to look at the facts surrounding various aviation crashes, the way in which the investigation surrounds the pilot and the way pilot error is sought for as a means of offloading responsibility when the time comes. Very few people know what is like unless they are at the coalface, as we all know in regard to other contexts at the present time. There may not be sufficient time to take appropriate action as a result of inadequate information and I can think of at least one instance where that was the cause of an accident in the fairly recent past. Obviously, if the charts and GPS had been updated, that would not have happened.

We also have to cover the area of regulation, which is important. Regulation in respect of health and safety and operational issues must be borne in mind and kept to the fore at all times. Otherwise, standards will fall and accidents will happen.

We also need to update our governance. The governance in the airline sector all over the globe has changed in recent years, in that various airlines have collapsed and have had to be bailed out by governments. I congratulate our own airlines, Aer Lingus and Ryanair, for the work they have done and the way have managed so far in very difficult circumstances. While I would not always agree with the views of the Ryanair boss as to when international travel should be restored, it is a fact that Ryanair has done a great deal for the development of the aviation industry and for the provision of readily available transport at an economic rate, which was not available 30 or 40 years ago. Similarly, I want to congratulate Aer Lingus for its work and recognise that there are issues and challenges for it now as well. What we need to do is be fair and equal in the way we deal with our air carriers and to try to ensure that a level playing pitch is provided for them.

The present is as good a time as any to refine the legislation affecting the industry. It is the time and place to do it when the number of aircraft in the skies is at its lowest. I congratulate the Minister for bringing the legislation before the House at this moment, although others may have different views on that. People may say that we could postpone this as we have more urgent issues. However, at some stage, everything becomes urgent.

We should not wait until it becomes urgent before we deal with particular issues.

The aviation industry is going through a very testing time. It will require all the encouragement, help and fair play that can be given to it. It will recover again and quickly when the time comes but we still do not know when the Covid threat will pass or if things will ever be the same again. We must realise that we must live with what we have got and ensure that the next generation has something to inherit.

I do not live close to any of the airports but I do live on the flight path of aeroplanes to Dublin Airport. I am conscious of the experiences of people in that constituency in regard to noise. From my experience, windows and doors are the main areas through which the noise comes into the house. They can be insulated or treated with double or treble protection to deflect aircraft noise and it is very successful. There is a huge difference between the double and treble protection, which leaves only the noise from the chimneys and that can also be reduced dramatically. The Minister ought keep those issues in mind. A certain amount of discomfort follows but we have to deal with progress. Progress has been ongoing for years, we have led the field and hopefully will continue to do so.

5:00 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The Air Navigation and Transport Bill 2020 creates a single aviation regulator for safety, security, economic regulation and consumer protection. It is something with which I am in full agreement.

Last April I raised rapid testing at airports with the then Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and have repeatedly raised it since. That is going back nine or ten months ago and I was very disappointed that no Deputy in Cork supported my call. I was involved in a meeting with Cork Airport when I raised it there. I find it unbelievable that it is only in the last while that we are talking about testing in our airports. Not one person should be able to enter or leave our islands without a negative PCR test. It is very simple testing and should have been mandatory from the very start. Every aircraft route that leaves Ireland will represent lost jobs and lost GDP. It is an economic fact that if our airlines are allowed to go out of business, the consequences for the Irish economy will be devastating. Cork South-West relies on tourism for a huge part of our economy. When the pandemic is over we will need our tourists back and for Cork airport to be brought up to full strength as it was before. Most Governments across the world have recognised such dangers and have accepted that if they should intervene in airline operations for the sake of the virus suppression, then they must ensure that those airlines do not go out of business as a result. New Zealand, so often our favourite Covid comparator, moved quickly to extend supports worth €900 million to Air New Zealand. Much closer to home, the list includes Air France, British Airways and Air Portugal to the tune of €7 billion, €2.5 billion and €1.2 billion, respectively. The UK Government provided a loan worth €670 million to Ryanair, an Irish airline, such was the value it placed on its contribution to the UK economy. Why does Ireland remain an outlier as the only European country to not provide meaningful financial support to its indigenous airlines? The window for decisive action is fast closing. Airlines plan and budget for the vitally important summer schedule at this time of year and will soon have to make hard decisions based on expected market conditions. The Government needs to understand that creditors and airline owners will not allow for yet another summer. They will cut their losses and move their money and assets to other countries that support aviation. The market will not save Ireland's airlines. If international travel must be suppressed into the future then significant financial support for Irish airlines is the only option to avert the sector's collapse. If the Government intervenes to suppress travel, it must also act to save our airlines from destruction. It cannot have it both ways. The Government needs to provide meaningful financial support to Ireland's airlines before it is too late.

I will also raise the way in which some of the airlines have acted towards their employees, something I raised when the CEO of Aer Lingus was before the Covid-19 response committee. I asked about people's basic social welfare rights. Many employees were unfortunately in a situation where they might have a day or two of work a week but not much more than that. At the time, Aer Lingus was refusing to sign off on the Xs and Os, unlike other employers. Maybe it is above the people, I do not know, but it is looking for supports to survive. On that occasion, its representatives promised they would come back to me to provide full clarity on their intentions towards their employees but I never heard anything since. That is seven or eight months ago and I am very frustrated because at the same time, the airline expects the nation to support it.

I stress the importance of Cork and Shannon airports, as well as Dublin. Cork Airport is very important to tourism in west Cork, places such as Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Bantry, Kinsale, Bandon, down to the Sheep's Head, Mizen Head and the Bere Peninsula. People fly into Cork Airport to holiday in these beauty spots. We will return to that day soon again but we need to support our airports to ensure that they are on a firm footing, ready to go back to the way they were prior to this Covid disaster. I would appreciate if all supports that can be given to Cork Airport are given to it in the future. Any support we can provide to the Government within the Dáil to ensure this will be given.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am very happy to speak on the important matter of connectivity with the rest of the world. I wish the Minister of State well with her brief and thank her and the senior Minister. I will be speaking to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on a meeting on Zoom tomorrow that I requested, about issues in Tipperary town, which I appreciate.

The aviation industry is very important. People can criticise Ryanair and its chief executive's style but it did transform the industry and introduced competition into it. People were able to go away to holidays in places that they never dreamed of because of competition. We need competition; it is the spice of life. I also salute Aer Lingus. I have travelled a few times with it but not that many. I had a fierce fear of flying for years but once I took to the skies, it grew on me. It has been a wonderful promoter of Ireland, think of their green shamrocks and badges, and the air stewards and pilots. Consider the expense and efforts that the pilots take to get trained but many simply have been abandoned recently. Many pilots in Tipperary and beyond have contacted me who are just in limbo. As Deputy Michael Collins mentioned, in the early part of the pandemic, for some reason Aer Lingus was kicking and screaming and would not allow its staff to sign on and off days, which normal businesses do all the time with different seasonal jobs and otherwise. They should have allowed that. I was privileged to be at the Taoiseach's briefings when we had them with NPHET and the rest of them. I asked them from the very first meeting, like a bad record, why we were not doing something about testing with our airports. They are welded to this PCR test. I have issues with the PCR test, as do many scientists and medical people who know a lot more than me about it. Some samples have been spun around for too many revolutions in tests in this country. I saw somewhere recently that the WHO has warned people to turn down the revolution cycle of tests. Why was the antigen test refused and not allowed? It is nearly a year into the situation. We must have the antigen testing as well.

There is also the issue of many Irish people abroad.

Many of them are away for business and they cannot come home. It is easy to look for the complete closure of the airports but essential travel will always have to take place. I refer to travel for business or health reasons and medical people who want to come in and out of the country. There are even those who come here to repair medical equipment but only a small amount of that takes place.

I was on to the Department recently, as was a constituent of mine. In terms of transmitting Covid, there are two ways one is safe to travel. Uimhir a haon is a negative Covid test within three days and uimhir a dó is a recent history of Covid and recovery from Covid certified by a medical doctor. We have to look at that because the number of people who got Covid, were sick and have recovered is huge. Of course, we never hear that on RTÉ or any of the media. Thankfully, many people recover well. Although the science is not settled on the length of immunity having had Covid and recovering from it, it is accepted that a minimum safe period in which one can expect immunity to last is 90 days. It may last for years but we do not know that yet. For this reason, the second criterion of certified recovery from Covid is obviously the most reliable. That should be examined.

In terms of the USA criteria, they state that effective from 26 January, all airline passengers travelling to the United States aged two years or older must provide a negative Covid-19 viral test taken within three calendar days of travel. Alternatively, travellers to the US may provide documentation from a licensed healthcare provider of having recovered from Covid-19 in the 90 days preceding travel. I would think that person would be a GP or other doctor, so why can we not do that? Why do we have to dance on the head of a pin in this regard? If we did that we would not be wasting money on tests. The PCR test costs €190. They might be a little cheaper now but it is hard to find that out. If one has recovered from Covid and has a certificate to that effect, one should be able to travel.

People who had Covid, recovered and are now immune may still test positive but in their case it is an additional sign of immunity and safety, not a warning sign. People who initially contact Covid were in an infectious cycle from the very start but these people have recovered. Ireland recognises only one criterion for entrance into the country, that is, a negative Covid test within three days of arrival. This means that people who have had Covid, are immune and can legally travel for legitimate and sensible reasons cannot come home. That is what I referred to at the start of my contribution. They might be working in Dubai or God knows where. We have engineers working all over the world. Some of our brightest and best people work all over the world in a wide range of industries and commerce. That is the reason they should be allowed to come home. It is very hard on those people coming up to nearly 12 months of this pandemic if they cannot get home. As I said to the people in the Department of Foreign Affairs, this is a big problem in that people who are now immune to Covid are stranded all over the world as a result of the shortfall in the Irish regulations. We must look at that because if it is good enough for Americans, who are fairly strict, it should be good enough for us.

Our policy on aviation also contradicts the HSE advice which, after a positive test, tells one the number of days to isolate and the date on which one can move freely again. The Cabinet seems to want to be seen to be very strict but this anomaly and shortfall in the regulations is preventing people from trying to come home. While this may be seen to be anti-science, it is not a case of being anti-science. Moreover, it is not anti-vaccination or anything else. I ask the Minister why the Irish travel restrictions do not recognise the status of citizens who have had Covid, recovered, have proof of same and immunity for 90 days. The proof of same is a medical certification. When will the Government stop penalising those who have had Covid and recovered and allow them to come home? If we are going to live with Covid, which we are told we have to do, we will have to support the people who recover from it. There are many of them and they need to be able to have that test to come home.

We have to think outside the box. I know we are talking about aviation and connectivity but NPHET must examine this. I have said frequently that NPHET needs to be expanded and new people need to be brought in from different areas. The airlines are so important to us for our connectivity. I salute a group of people from Ireland and all over the world who went off and bought an airline. They call it the Freedom airline. I am not trying to pick on people who are down or weak in other countries but the Government should be looking at buying airlines, which are being sold for a pittance. It is a pity but we must preserve our airlines. We must preserve our connectivity. Another competitor in Ireland would not do one bit of harm.

Dublin Airport is bonkers every time I am there, albeit not for the past nine months. I refer to investment in Dublin Airport. I spoke at length on the Bill the former Minister, Deputy Ross, was bringing through the House about the downgrading of Shannon, Cork, Waterford - Port Láirge, Galway and Knock airports. We have plenty of airports. We need more aeroplanes and more pilots. We have many young ambitious people who would like to become pilots. I will not list them but I have read out the figures. Governments all over the world have pumped massive amounts of money - billions in some cases - into airlines and we will not give them pingin amháin. Cén fáth? What are we trying to do? Are we trying to get rid of them, like so many other businesses in Ireland, and hire people to come in and run our airlines? We have had the proud flag of Aer Lingus for many decades and we have the competitor, Ryanair, also. We need to support them and, as far as I am concerned, we need a third airline. We need to open up in that regard. When the late Charlie Haughey and the late Monsignor Horan wanted to develop Knock, what did Enda Kenny and others say? A Fine Gael Minister at the time called it a fog in a bog or something like that but the airport is there. It is a fine international airport but it is under capacity. Cork and Shannon airports are under capacity. Some airlines pulled out of Cork and Shannon, although their names will not come readily to me now. It is time to look around and see what is available because money was never as cheap to borrow. In fact, it can be borrowed at an interest rate of nearly 0%. We need to invest because we need our connectivity. Our country is too small and we are seeing now the impacts of Brexit. Our people need to be able to work all over the world. We are working at jobs all over the world in good industries and helping other economies. Our NGOs travel all over the world. Our sisters and priests went as missionaries all over the world and still do. They do tremendous work, which is recognised all over the world. We might not want to recognise them at home but they are recognised all over the world, and rightly so.

We need to think outside the box here. We need to look at supporting the airlines and at this point in time. The pilots must be supported also because they have families. They have a tough job, which involves being away and then having so much rest time when they come back. Their families have a difficult time but they must be supported now and the airlines must be supported. We are getting pleas for support every day. The Minister of State must be flooded with them. Why are we so out of kilter that we will not support our airlines? Almost every country in the world is supporting their airlines. Previous speakers said that the British Government supported Ryanair because it knew how badly it needed the connectivity. We also need it.

We have lost railway lines. We have lost so much in rural Ireland. This is something we have and that we need to protect and enhance. We are supposed to be all in this together so we must support our airlines and make sure they will be there fit for purpose when, we hope - we had Lá Fhéile Bríde three days ago - on this third day of spring, the pandemic is over. We must look forward. This virus will not be with us always but we must examine the antigen testing. We must look at that model of people who have recovered from Covid and have a certificate to that effect. We must let them come home in the first instance but also let them travel afterwards because people who have had Covid and recovered must be allowed to live. Everyone else is cocooning and frightened to go here or there or do anything but the people who have gone through it must be allowed back into the economy. Otherwise, our economy will not last.

In a few weeks' time, we will have been in this scenario for 12 months. I reiterate that we must look around to see if there are airlines out there or if we have any enterprising entrepreneurs who would be able to buy them and have them ready. They are there and they are well equipped. They are the best of aeroplanes. The orders for Boeing and other aeroplanes were massive. The books were full. Everything is stopped now but if the ones that are sitting in hangars at airports are available and cheap, they should be bought.

With regard to connectivity, Waterford Airport needs upgrading badly, and we need support for it. In terms of Shannon Airport, we have a group in which Deputies Cathal Crowe, McNamara and Carey are involved. We have had many meetings, as Shannon is facing a real problem. We must discourage all the traffic flying into Dublin and divert it down to the country airports.

I am not anti-Dublin but the city is choked and Terminal 2 is full. There is now a plan for massive extensions there again and we know the views of residents about it. Some of them contacted me about noise when we had this debate with the previous Minister, former Deputy Shane Ross. It is not nice. I heard Deputy Durkan say people could close windows if they are double-glazed or triple-glazed but somebody will not stay there in summer with the windows closed. What happens if the people want to sit in or dig in their back garden? As the current Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, might say, there might be some south-facing window boxes in which people might grow some lettuce.

The Minister needs to forget about the lettuce and get serious about developing our economy and airlines. Most of all we must support the pilots. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí; we should encourage more young people to go into pilot training. Deputy Durkan said he took up flying at one stage, which I did not know. I knew he often drove a tractor but I did not think he got into the air. I would be afraid to try flying but the world should be their oyster for young people. When this is over, it should remain their oyster. There are training schools that are ready for investment. Above all, the Minister of State must tell us in her response why funding is not being put into aviation. It is going into private hospitals and a certain beef mogul who owns private hospitals. It is going into Citywest and God knows where else. These are exceptional times but we cannot cut off our connectivity with the rest of the world.

The Taoiseach wants to go to America and our diaspora is abroad. There are people abroad who have recovered from Covid-19, including people from here who are working abroad. They cannot come home. Fair play is fine play with me. The Taoiseach is going to America to encourage thousands of tourists to come here. President Biden is telling us now he is mad about Mayo and Louth and will come here. The tourists will come here but they cannot do so if we do not have proper infrastructure in our airports and aircraft. Above all, they will not come here if we do not have the human resource of pilots, back-up staff, technicians, hostesses and everybody else. It is a big industry and needs major support. It must get this support and it cannot wait much longer for it. We do not want the industry to be diminished in such a way that it will not be there when we are ready to go again.

5:20 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies for their contributions to the Second Stage debate. I will endeavour to answer as many questions as I can. I will certainly address any remaining matters on Committee Stage. I welcome the support of Deputies for the Bill.

I will come back to Deputy O'Rourke and some of his questions seeking further information on matters such as costs. They will be kept to a minimum and it is something on which the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, board and senior management are focused. There has been regular engagement between my Department and Fórsa, the main staff union for the IAA and the Commission for Aviation Regulation, CAR, as well as between the company and the staff representatives. The Bill is quite clear that staff terms and conditions will not be affected by any institutional changes.

As I alluded to in my introductory remarks, this important legislation brings together a number of different strands of policy into a single comprehensive Bill to create an independent and strengthened aviation regulator. The recovery to an internationally competitive and sustainable aviation industry needs a strong and reputable regulatory regime.

The proposed institutional reforms contained in the Bill will create a single national aviation regulator responsible for safety, security and economic regulation. In order to do this, the regulatory functions of the IAA and the CAR will be combined. The Bill will also separate the for-profit air traffic control services functions of the IAA and place them in a newly formed commercial semi-State company, which will be called the Irish air navigation service. One of the most important consequences of the Bill is that it will bring to an end to the dual commercial and regulator role of the IAA.

I can finish there if the Ceann Comhairle so wishes.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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You may adjourn the debate and we can return to allow you to conclude.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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We can conclude now.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We can do that if the Minister of State so wishes.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I am hopeful for the safe passage of the Bill through these Houses in the coming months.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is a very expeditious way to deal with these matters. Thank you and your assistance is greatly appreciated.

Question put and agreed to.