Seanad debates

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill 2005: Committee and Remaining Stages.

 

NEW SECTIONS.

1:00 pm

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 6 are consequential to amendment No. 1. Amendments Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 6 may be discussed together by agreement.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, before section 1, to insert the following new section:

"1.—In this Act—

'the Act of 1993' means the Irish Aviation Authority Act 1993;

'the Act of 1998' means the Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Act 1998.".

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Callely, to the House. On Second Stage I said that we have no problem with this important Bill's speedy passage through the House. However, some concerns, of which I am sure the Minister of State is aware, have emerged, particularly regarding how Eurocontrol will affect Irish-based companies and operators in the aviation industry. These amendments have been tabled to ensure the Bill gives an undertaking to Irish-based operating and leasing companies.

I congratulate Eurocontrol on the tremendous job it does. Worldwide, it has over 2,000 staff and co-ordinates 35 national aviation authorities, in addition to joint aviation authorities. It co-ordinates hundreds of airports and airlines ranging in size from a single aircraft to medium-sized companies, such as Aer Lingus and Ryanair, to enormous international fleets, such as Air France, KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways. It also co-ordinates other aircraft, both private and military, the European Aviation Safety Authority, NATO, the European Space Agency, the European Commission, the International Civil Aviation Authority and many more. It is a huge undertaking for the agency's 2,000 staff who process 25,000 flights daily. It is an enormous effort to track these flights, many of which go through different airspaces and route charging systems. Bringing all this together requires great diligence on behalf of the staff.

The amendments I have tabled are to put the Irish-based aviation industry operators on an even keel with their counterparts in other countries. On Second Stage, I noted that, as the Bill is presented, there would be an unfair advantage to operators working in other states. When one considers the number of leasing companies and operators working out of Ireland, these amendments must be carefully considered.

Aviation companies operating in Ireland are at a disadvantage in how Eurocontrol will charge or put a lien on an aircraft. In some cases, the operator of the aircraft may also be its owner. However, in most cases aircraft operators lease craft from leasing companies. A situation could arise where an operator would run up large bills with Eurocontrol. If the operator fails to pay, Eurocontrol can ground the aircraft and pursue the leasing company, the ultimate owners of the aircraft. This is unfair when compared with how it is operated in other countries. This is significant because there are a large number of leasing companies in this country with operators based in Ireland. The Minister of State must carefully consider these interlinked amendments. It makes no sense to deal with one and not the others.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Paddy Burke not only for his comments on the floor of the House but for the concerns he has expressed on these issues outside the House. I understand why he tabled these amendments.

The amendments arise from concerns about the detention and sale of aircraft for non-payment of airport, air navigation and communication charges. Ireland has taken a policy decision not to impose the provisions of the revised Eurocontrol convention on joint and several liability in the case of unpaid Eurocontrol en route charges. This Bill does not incorporate the provisions in Annex 4 of the revised convention. A number of questions have been raised on the powers of detention and sale of aircraft contained in earlier Acts, in particular the Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Act 1998, and whether the provisions of those Acts accord with the policy on liability now being adopted.

I have received advice on this matter from officials who have already commenced a consultation process with various interested parties. Following the process I may bring forward amendments to existing legislation in this area. To assist the discussion today I propose that, with the agreement of the House, subject to the analysis being complete any such amendments would be proposed on Committee Stage in the Dáil and the Bill reported back to the Seanad. I will be happy to keep Senators Burke and Wilson informed of developments so they are fully au fait with the proposals.

Ireland is one of the eight states of the 35 members of Eurocontrol still to ratify the convention. The revised convention cannot come into force until all member states complete their ratification procedures. In order to complete our own ratification procedures my Department is anxious to have the Bill on the Dáil Order Paper at the earliest possible date. I will ask officials to complete the consultation quickly and report to me as soon as possible. I hope there will be no delay in the passage of the Bill through both Houses.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I am not clear if the Minister of State promised to introduce amendments on Committee Stage in the Dáil.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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It depends on the consultation.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State says he has initiated a consultation process with various operators in the airline industry.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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My departmental officials have done so.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I also have had extensive consultation with various operators in recent days and there is great concern on their part, whether they be airline operators or leasing companies. They are worried about the fact that, for example, an Italian airline became insolvent owing Eurocontrol €17 million, which is an enormous amount of money. If a person was allowed to run up that debt to a bank there would not be much sympathy for the bank. I do not have much sympathy for Eurocontrol, which does not enforce the law efficiently. If Eurocontrol can ground an aircraft to secure payment of the charges it does not have to go after the other assets of a company. The company can go into liquidation and there is no great need for Eurocontrol to pursue it.

If departmental officials have an extensive consultation with operators they will be made aware of aspects of the Bill that might militate against the interests of Irish operators. Our priority is attracting and keeping jobs and business here. There are a number of very large international leasing companies operating out of Shannon and they are worried that the law will work against them. I welcome the Minister of State's plans for a consultation period. I will give the Bill my blessing to go to Committee Stage in the Dáil, though I appreciate there is a problem getting the Bill onto the Order Paper for the Dáil. This is an important issue for jobs in Ireland and people in this industry. I received a call from Mr. Seán Hehir this morning, one of many callers, who is managing director of AIG which insures many aircraft for leasing companies. He is worried about this legislation.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Senator Burke raised this when I last spoke in this House on the issue. Senator Wilson was in contact with me this morning on the subject of the amendments to ask exactly where we were in the process. I hope the House will appreciate that I do not want to pre-empt how we enter the process.

The Bill will provide the backdrop to the consultation process. I hear what Senator Burke has said and am aware of other similar issues that have been brought to my attention. I will ask my officials to enter into those consultations with an open mind in the context of the Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill 2005 and report to me as quickly as possible. I am not in a position to give any guarantees today. It would be wrong to do so as I do not wish my officials to go into consultations with one hand tied. We should approach the consultations in an open and transparent fashion and my officials will keep Senators Burke and Wilson briefed as far as possible. Should amendments be tabled I will keep the Seanad informed on how we proceed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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Amendments Nos. 5 and 7 are consequential to amendment No. 2. Amendments Nos. 2, 5 and 7 may be discussed together by agreement.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, before section 1, to insert the following new section:

"1.—In this Act—

'the Act of 1993' means the Irish Aviation Authority Act 1993;

'the Protocol of 1997' means the Protocol in the Schedule to this Act.".

I intend to withdraw these amendments but I would like to hear the Minister of State's views on them. The protocol was agreed by various companies in 1997 and involved issues such as the open skies agreement. The views of the Minister of State may be relevant for another Bill.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I indicated during the debate on Second Stage that Articles 5 to 9 of Annex IV to the revised convention refer to the issues of attaching the en route charge as a lien on the aircraft, making the operator and owner jointly and severally liable. It enables detention and sale of aircraft to enforce recovery. Ireland is under no compulsion to legislate for creation of liens or joint and several liability as to the owner and operator of the aircraft. The State has not made provision for this in the published Bill.

By not introducing the creation of a lien and joint and several liability, Ireland cannot be said not to be discharging its obligation under the new Eurocontrol convention. It is a matter of choice for a contracting party to introduce domestic law to this effect. We are not providing for the creation of liens or joint and several liability in this Bill. The provisions of Articles 5 to 9 of Annex IV to the revised convention will not have any force in Ireland. I have been advised that it is unnecessary to expressly include a reservation in the Bill relating to these articles. I am pleased to hear that Senator Burke is withdrawing the amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 1 agreed to.

Amendment No. 3 not moved.

Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.

Section 5 agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

Amendment Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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We do not usually take Committee and Report Stages together, as amendments could be tabled again on Report Stage if one was not happy with the passage of the Bill in question. The Minister of State in this case wishes to get the legislation on the Order Paper in the Dáil. He has undertaken to put forward the Bill on Committee Stage in the Dáil and promised that a consultation process will occur.

The legislation can be likened to when one rents a car. Speeding fines and parking tickets could be run up but the rental agency could be left with the bill. Such a situation will disadvantage Irish operators, and I hope the Minister of State will do all in his power to examine the issues relating to my amendments. I thank the Minister of State for the manner in which he has dealt with the Bill, and his knowledge of the legislation and the aviation industry. I thank his advisors for their assistance and wish the Bill well.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for coming into this House on many occasions in past few weeks, particularly those visits relating to the Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill 2005. I thank him and his officials for the work put into this important legislation. I thank Senator Burke for his positive contribution on Second and other Stages of this Bill. I also thank the other speakers who contributed from all sides of the House. I wish the Bill a speedy passage through the other House and I agree with Senator Burke in hoping that his concerns will be considered in the Dáil.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Minister of State, Department of Transport; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Acting Chairman and all Members in the Seanad for their co-operation in ensuring the successful passage of the Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill 2005 through the House. I thank the many Members who spoke on Second Stage.

I have noted the various points raised by Members and assure them that these issues will receive my attention. I appreciate from a business perspective the manner in which Senator Paddy Burke has expressed his concerns and reservations with one aspect of the Bill. I am sure Senator Burke will support the view that my officials should enter consultations with the Bill approved, but bearing in mind the concerns raised by Senator Burke and others. It is important that consultations are entered into with the Bill in hand.

Senators Burke, Dooley and Wilson have raised other issues along with the matter of liens and liabilities. I will give the Senators an undertaking to keep them fully informed of the developments as we proceed. It is important that I acknowledge the very constructive manner in which this House has gone about its business on this issue and its accommodation in passing Committee Stage today.

The Irish Aviation Authority, as our commercial State-sponsored body, does a good job in the provision of safe, orderly and efficient air navigation services in Irish-controlled airspace and in regulating the safety standards of Irish civil aviation. In fulfilling its role across a range of operational and technical regulatory functions, the IAA operates to international safety standards and procedures laid down by various organisations. The Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) Bill 2005 will further strengthen the IAA in its functions and roles.

I will take this opportunity to put on the record of the House my appreciation to the IAA's chief executive officer, Mr. Eamonn Brennan, his management team and each and every one of the IAA's employees. Heavy emphasis is placed on its team spirit as everyone plays a fundamental and pivotal role. In light of the recent death of its chairman, I will take this opportunity to salute and pay particular tribute to Mr. Donal Geaney for the significant work he undertook. I sympathise with his wife Ann and his family on their loss, which was ultimately sudden.

I thank the Acting Chairman, the House's administrative and support staff and the Members. On behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, and myself, I thank the Department's officials back at the ranch, for want of a better description, and those who have joined me here, Mr. Kevin Doyle and Mr. Fintan Towey. I hope that what we have done today will allow Ireland to ratify this important convention at the earliest possible opportunity.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 15 November 2005.