Urgent talks are needed to save Ireland's aviation sector amid fears for the future of the state airports arising out of the pandemic, a senator has said.
Aviation sources said critical decisions on international travel and possible state supports for the airports are required within the next 14-days as airlines finalise decisions on next year’s international routes into and out of Ireland.
It comes just days after Ryanair restated its intention to close its bases in Cork and Shannon for the winter season unless the government eases international travel restrictions.
It prompted the Cork-branch of the Irish Hotels Federation to appeal to the Government to tackle the issue.
"Failure to support the airport now runs the risk of long-term damage to the tourism industry and the wider economy in the south of Ireland,” branch chairperson Fergal Harte said.
Pre-Covid-19, tourism supported 25,300 jobs in Cork and contributed €895m to the local economy.
“Tourism in Cork and the wider region has enormous potential. It can and will recover, but it requires a fully operational airport with regular connections to our key markets."
Regional chambers and business groups in Galway, Mayo and Sligo have also united in calls to the Government to help Ireland West Airport, where passenger numbers have plunged 90% because of travel restrictions.
Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer said he has now written to the chair of the Oireachtas committee on transport, Kieran O’Donnell TD, asking that its first hearings, due within days, focus on aviation and supporting the airports.
"In addition, I’m asking that we hear from the members of the aviation recovery task-force who published a comprehensive report,” he said.
“Given the plummeting travel figures, job losses, accumulation of losses by the DAA and potential base closures by Ryanair and Aer Lingus, I believe this meeting should be a priority.”
In its latest memo to pilots at the weekend, Ryanair said the government has not only failed to implement its own aviation taskforce’s recommendations of July 7 but has now made matters worse by delaying the implementation of the EU ‘traffic light’ system until at least October 13.
“Instead of adopting the EU traffic light system, the government updated the failed ‘Green List’ by removing six countries with lower Covid-19 case rates than Ireland,” it said.
“This disjointed and mismanaged approach is putting the jobs of our pilots and crew at Cork and Shannon at risk.
"if there is no change we regrettably expect the base closures at Cork and Shannon to proceed but a final decision has not yet been made."
Mr Buttimer said: “We have an aviation recovery report and that needs to be discussed as part of a whole-of-government approach to safeguard the airports, especially Cork Airport.
“It needs to be top of the agenda. The Transport Minister, Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State for Transport, Hildegarde Naughton, need to spearhead a response.
The aviation taskforce report issued on July 7 included a raft of proposals, including;
- the introduction of a comprehensive ‘test, track and trace’ system to allow international travel to resume without quarantine to red zone countries and to restore confidence in air passengers;
- the introduction of state supports to allow the airports stimulate traffic by reducing airport charges for airlines to restore and grow passenger numbers;
- and the sanctioning of state funding support for essential capital projects in line with European Commission rules on state supports to airports with fewer than three million passengers.
There were just seven departures and arrivals at Cork Airport scheduled today, with each aircraft about one-third full.