Cork and Shannon airports have reiterated calls for the implementation of passenger testing to allow a return of some air passenger travel following the loss of their Ryanair bases.
Both airports are facing into an uncertain winter after Europe's largest airline confirmed it was withdrawing the planes based there until March 2021. Shannon and Cork are now hoping that the adoption and implementation of the EU-wide traffic light system will allow the return of some air traffic.
Under the plan, countries will be labelled green, orange, or red based on the level of infection. Due to the current second wave of Covid-19 infections across Europe much of the continent, including Ireland, is labelled red.
While travel is still allowed, the system calls for the use of passenger testing instead of quarantines or reduced movement on arrival.
The DAA, which operates Cork and Dublin airports, has engaged a supplier and company that can provide the infrastructure and staff at both airports to begin passenger testing. If approved, it is envisaged that passengers could attend the testing centre at one of the airport car parks up to 72 hours prior to departure to get tested.
Cork Airport spokesperson Kevin Cullinane said: “Cork Airport has called upon the Irish Government to approve quickly the adoption of rapid results, low-cost, scalable, pre-departure testing for red zone countries to let safe air travel restart with confidence and save the thousands of dependent jobs in tourism, hospitality and aviation."
Mary Considine, chief executive of Shannon Group, said the aviation industry needs a clear pathway to recovery. "We had hoped that it would start with a harmonised EU traffic light system. While this was endorsed by Ireland, the measures proposed fall short of what the industry requires. This urgently needs to be addressed and supported by a testing regime at airports to restore confidence and get aviation moving safely again," she said.
Ms Considine's comments were backed up by Chamber groups across the Mid-West, including Shannon and Limerick, which said the focus needs to be placed on implementing a Covid-19 rapid testing system at airports. "We must use this time productively," they said.
The Government did announce €10m in the budget for Shannon and Cork airports to be used for capital spending. This funding was welcomed by the airports. Cork Airport is in the middle of upgrading its hold-baggage screening system, which will cost approximately €8m. The runway at Cork is also coming to the end of its life and will have to be upgraded in the coming years along with new electrical works and power substation, the costs of which are likely to run into the tens of millions.
However, the return of regular flights and passengers will be key to any recovery for the aviation industry.
Cork Airport is expected to see less than 600,000 passengers this year; 400,000 of that number travelled between January and March.
Industry experts believe it could take five years for air passenger numbers to return to pre-Covid numbers.