Dáil Éireann - Volume 526 - 15 November, 2000
Aviation Regulation Bill, 2000 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Ahern.
An Ceann Comhairle Séamus Pattison
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: This is very interesting legislation because it is intended to introduce a degree of regularity and common sense in an area in which we have witnessed significant problems and lack of common sense. One of the five main policy  areas touched on by the commission which will be established by this Bill is the approval of airport and air traffic controls. It makes sense for such a sensitive and significant issue to be in the control of a stand-alone commission.
A second policy area relates to the approval of ground handling service providers. We have witnessed the introduction of private enterprise operations in this area and it is only proper that an independent regulator would handle that issue. This is a common sense proposition.
The granting of operating licences to air carriers will also become one of the commission's responsibilities and I welcome that. The Minister has made a very sensible and prudent decision to have the potentially controversial allocation of take-off and landing slots dealt with by a commission which is regarded as independent and which will objectively examine and regulate equally the airport operator and the airlines. There has been much competitive jostling in the airline business, both here and internationally, on the issue of take-off and landing slots, which can confer considerable advantages on companies. There has been some argument that at least one operator feels it has been disadvantaged in this area, particularly at Dublin Airport which has now reached a critical capacity. I hope the hand wringing, crying wolf and whinging we have heard about this issue in the past will be consigned to oblivion.
The Bill provides the commission with a very important role in licensing and bonding travel agents and tour operators. Licensing and bonding travel agents and tour operators has been a very thorny and controversial issue over the years. I live in Bray and I am familiar with one major collapse a number of years ago where an operator was taking deposits from unfortunate people up to one hour before the company was liquidated and went bottom up. Given the degree of additional affluence and that margins and competition in the business are very tight, there is a need for independent regulation and I commend the Minister for the provisions she has included in this regard.
In her speech on Second Stage the Minister outlined in detail the background to the legislation and touched on one significant area, namely, the rationale for the changes, particularly in terms of airport charges and tariffs and the discount regime operated by Aer Rianta over the years. I do not want to portray myself as a spokesperson for Aer Rianta, but it has been much maligned on the issue of charges, particularly by one airport operator which spends its time whinging and pointing the finger while the manner in which it handles its own relationship with its staff and customers is, to say the least, less than savoury. Looking at the tariffs and charges which the company has operated over the years and given that it was operating in a very limited market in which most international operators were not concerned, all in all it has served the State and the  aviation industry very well and this should be put on record. The men and women who work for Aer Rianta are adversely affected by unfair, unjust and, frankly, unfounded criticism.
As has been pointed out, Aer Rianta suffered a major loss in its revenue capacity with the ending of duty free sales. Imprudent and unjustifiable decisions taken in the early 1990s by the European Community, driven more by ideology than by common sense, have had a major impact on the airline industry and on airport operations not just in Ireland but elsewhere. Ireland can be proud that we originated and Aer Rianta very successfully developed the idea of international duty free sales. Aer Rianta did so not just in Ireland but as things began to thaw in the former Soviet Union, it developed extremely successful international businesses in this area.
As a consequence of the ending of duty free sales airport charges have been affected. To hear one operator talking about introducing packages which would allow an aeroplane to land and take off on the basis of a charge of 50p per passenger is utterly ludicrous and nonsensical. It makes no economic sense to talk in those terms. Aer Rianta has invested taxpayers' money in the airports and it is reasonable that it has a reasonable level of charges, to be in a position to replace its major loss from duty free sales and get on with its general business without passing the cost of developing that business on to the taxpayer.
Aer Rianta had a cushion for many years arising from duty free sales and its non-indigenous or out-of-State activities. Sadly, because of decisions taken purely on the basis of ideology by the European Commission, which did not deny itself the benefit of duty free sales, Aer Rianta and other airport operators around the world have found themselves in a difficult situation, which has given rise to changes in airport charging.
It is good that a commission which can be regarded as separate will be able to deal with airport charges and air traffic charges, and it will, I hope, end the unseemly whinge which has come from a particular quarter which does not cover itself in glory in the manner in which it handles its staff, trade union relations or many of its customers. That is not to say Aer Rianta should not be criticised – it should be from time to time – but criticism must be fair and focused.
Another issue which arises is the current capacity of Dublin Airport. There is a lively debate about private capital being introduced to address some of the major difficulties which currently exist at the airport. Notwithstanding the very significant level of investment at the airport, it is clear that the current capacity of the airport is operating to breaking point. Aer Rianta has invested significantly and there is additional terminal space, which has eased things somewhat, although criticisms could be made in terms of aesthetics and how the changeover has been managed. The reality is there is an urgent need to examine the air traffic capacity at Dublin Airport.
Deputy Conor Lenihan suggested it was time  to examine the opening of Baldonnel to civilian air flights, a very sensible proposition. There will be difficulties with Baldonnel because of the pattern of housing development in the area over the years and the siting by Dublin city planners – if that is not an oxymoron – of some of the new conurbations close to Baldonnel. These will raise certain challenges, but a second airport sited at Baldonnel should be examined. Dublin Airport is operating to capacity and it determines the pattern of development in north County Dublin and the adjoining counties. Perhaps Baldonnel could initially handle charter or light commuter traffic. It seems there is a case to be made. In terms of my constituency, it would have very significant benefits because the economic benefits of developing a second airport in the Dublin area would be considerable for the surrounding countryside. There is very vibrant economic and business development in the vicinity of Baldonnel, which has significant capacity. Members will remember that when the original Potez arrangements were being made, much money was invested in upgrading the runways. There is space for further upgrading of the runways and flight patterns and paths could be adapted. The necessity of considering further controversial runway space at Dublin Airport could be obviated if we allowed Baldonnel to develop. Initially, Baldonnel could be developed as a location for commercial executive jets and handle many of the short haul flights and internal business, including that with some of the minor airports in the UK.
Certainly Baldonnel could become the hub for business development and in the medium to long term it should also become the hub for all major tour operations. The Bill is sound legislation and is well based. There has been some criticism of our propensity in this House to establish so-called independent commissions and, therefore, to remove from the doctrine of ministerial responsibility significant areas of public administration. From time to time I have a great deal of sympathy with this argument. I believe the areas covered by the Bill – regulation in the area of charges, regulation as to who will get ground handling contracts, regulation about operating licences, regulation governing bonding and the general operations of tour operators and, above all, regulation of slots and landing spaces in airports – do not go to the heart of public administration and do not lend themselves to cover by the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. By their nature they are areas which are commercial in their orientation and should be taken out of the maw of the general Civil Service bureaucracy and out of the controversy in which they have been artificially landed recently.
The best and most objective way of doing that is by the means proposed by the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, an innovative Minister who has done good work in a very challenging portfolio. It will have a beneficial effect for operators and passengers and, I hope, economic benefits. If the proposition that we look at a second airport comes up  it will have direct benefits for my constituency – ever parochial, but then all politics are local.
Mr. M. Ahern Mr. M. Ahern
Mr. M. Ahern: I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the Aviation Regulation Bill. I recall the statement by James Dillon many years ago that the rabbits would be running all over Rineanna and also the statement by the then Minister for Transport, Peter Barry, in the period 1984-87 that there was no need to put in an extension at Cork Airport. Both were proved wrong. I have been listening to many contributions from the Opposition which are hysterical, impractical and bordering on lunacy. The Opposition will be wrong again in regard to the manner in which it has approached this legislation. If one came to this island from outer space and listened to the contributions on the Bill and then went to any of the airports, one would ask whether we are in the same world.
Mr. McGinley Mr. McGinley
Mr. McGinley: We support the Bill.
Mr. M. Ahern Mr. M. Ahern
Mr. M. Ahern: Nobody will say things are perfect in any of our airports. That is due to the economy progressing in the way it has in the past few years, with more people travelling by rail, road and air. The infrastructure had not been prepared for the vast numbers travelling and we see the problems it has caused. The Government, in helping Aer Rianta, has plans in place to develop and raise the standards at our airports. I shall speak specifically on Cork Airport.
Plans have been put in place by Aer Rianta to spend more than £60 million over the next five years in the development of Cork Airport on four main elements – to develop the airfield, to develop the passenger terminal, to develop the cargo facilities and access. A sum of £6 million has been spent this year on the development of the apron. The concrete service has been upgraded and the life of the runway has been extended by 15 to 20 years. Another project – a further extension to the apron and a new taxi way – costing £8 million has been decided upon and will take 18 months to complete. At the passenger terminal it is planned to increase the capacity to handle 2.5 million passengers per annum by 2003 and to facilitate further expansion thereafter to handle up to five million passengers in the medium to long term. A design team is working on the specification for these new facilities. A sum of £33 million is to be spent on the passenger terminal upgrade in the first phase, £5.5 million in 2001, a further £5.5 million in 2002, with the remainder to be spent in 2003. The long-term planning is going ahead and it will cater for the numbers forecast to come through the airport in the next five years.
Approximately £2.5 million will be spent over the next 12 to 18 months to upgrade the cargo facilities. Given the increase in exports in the past four or five years there is a need to upgrade these facilities.
 Airport access is another area that has to be taken into account, for which £12 million has been set aside for expenditure over the next three years. It will be clear from those figures that Aer Rianta, with support from the Government, is spending vast sums of money to bring Cork Airport up to the standard needed to cater for the numbers forecast to go through in the next few years. This is continuing action, rather than talk, by the Fianna Fáil-led Government. We took such action in the past when in government and we are doing so again.
I agree with Deputy Roche that the new commission which is to be set up is to operate in an administrative capacity rather than in the policy area which must always be determined by the Government of the day. It is right to set up an administrative body independent of Government and the air carriers. The areas mentioned in the Bill relate to the approval of airport and air traffic control charges. It is important that the body set up should be independent so that the users are not in control of what would be charged to themselves. It is important that the ground handling service is independent of any of those bodies. On the question of the granting of operating licences to air carriers established in Ireland, the proper way to do this is through an independent commission. On the issue of the licensing and bonding of travel agents and tour operators, it is important that all those involved in this business are properly licensed and bonded. It is important also to have a commission that will carry out examinations and audits of these agents and licensing authorities.
I commend the Bill to the House. It is innovative and will progress all elements of air traffic business in the country.
Mr. McGinley Mr. McGinley
Mr. McGinley: Maraon leis na cainteoirí eile a labhair ar an mBille seo go dtí seo ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille. Bhíomar ag fanacht air le tamall ach más mall is mithid. The aviation industry is hugely important in world terms from the point of view of business, trade, commerce, tourism and general economic development. It is particularly important to an island state such as Ireland. Every aspect of our economic development is dependent on easy and ready access. Everyone agrees that the present position could be greatly improved. If this Bill contributes to such an improvement it certainly will be well worthwhile. The aim of the Bill is to regulate five main areas of airport operations, namely, airport charges, ground handling service personnel, the granting of operating licences to carriers established in this country, the administration of rules governing the allocation of landing and take-off slots at airports and the licensing and bonding of travel agents and tour operators.
The Bill covers operations at Dublin, Shannon and Cork Airports, all of which are State owned. However, its remit seems to be confined to airports with a throughput exceeding 1 million passengers per annum. The situation at Dublin Air port is often chaotic with people standing two or three deep at the desks. While they do their best, the desk staff cannot cope efficiently or quickly when there is a rush. Why are so many check-in desks closed during peak periods? If all the desks were staffed we would avoid the long queues which lead to frustration at the commencement of journeys.
In excess of 14 million passengers travel through Dublin Airport each year. Our objective should be to have Dublin Airport recognised as one of the most efficient airports in Europe, if not in the world. However, it currently comes a long way down the efficiency league. There are long delays when checking in, longer delays when collecting baggage and chaos at the taxi rank. All of these factors leave visitors to Ireland with a negative impression of how we operate the main point of entry to the country. The Minister would agree that the position needs to be greatly improved. On the other hand, passengers travelling into Dublin city from the airport will be impressed by the thoroughfare, particularly in the spring when daffodils line the route. I do not travel through Dublin Airport regularly but the route into the city centre from the airport is very impressive.
The Bill covers the operation of our three main airports at Dublin, Shannon and Cork but does not address the needs of regional airports which have greatly contributed to economic development. I am concerned by the situation of Donegal airport at Carrickfinn which services one of the most peripheral areas in the country. The region is 200 miles from Dublin, more than 100 miles from Belfast and 85 miles from Sligo. Donegal has no rail service which gives added importance to an air link. In light of these facts, it is unbelievable that the national development plan overlooked the N2 which is the main route connecting Dublin to Derry and my part of Donegal. Most of the other spurs to Cork, Belfast, Limerick and Galway are being upgraded to dual carriageway or motorway status but the main link to Donegal and the north-west will be the subject of very little development.
If the airport facilities at Carrickfinn are properly developed and supported this would give a tremendous boost to the economic development of County Donegal. Unemployment in the county is at the unacceptably high level of 17% while the national average is 4%. Donegal has some of the worst roads in the country and has no rail services. This illustrates the unrealised potential of the airport at Carrickfinn. The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, is familiar with the airport and has visited it in an official capacity. I am sure she would agree that the facilities are second to none. I do not know whether the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, has had the opportunity to visit the airport. He has been to Donegal on several occasions in the past year or so but perhaps he will visit Carrickfinn airport and familiarise himself with its fine facilities.
There is one flight to Dublin from Carrickfinn  each day. The flight leaves Dublin Airport at midday and arrives in Carrickfinn at about 1 p.m. It leaves Carrickfinn at about 2 p.m. and arrives in Dublin at 3 p.m. However, this service is not tailored to serve the needs of the business community. Most people who want to do business in Dublin would like to leave Donegal at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., arrive in Dublin one hour later, do their business and take a flight back to Carrickfinn in the evening. Unfortunately they cannot do so at present.
The community and business people in west Donegal were very disappointed earlier this year when the existing PSO routes were being renewed and there was no application for a second daily flight to Donegal. Why is the Department seeking tenders for only one flight per day on the Dublin-Donegal-Dublin route under the essential air services programme while all other regional airports are being given two or three flights per day?
There is a business demand for a same-day return flight to Donegal. I estimate that between 600 and 1,000 people travel by coach from Donegal to Dublin every day. If only 5% or 10% of these passengers availed of the air service it would be viable. Many patients are obliged to travel to Dublin for oncology and chemotherapy treatment. The North Western Health Board operates and funds a system under which people can avail of the flight from Donegal to Dublin at a subsidised rate whereby the return fare is £20. However, because of the timetable these people have to spend a night in Dublin. Many of these patients need to spend only an hour or so in Dublin and wish to return to Donegal the same evening but the flight timetable does not facilitate them. The only solution is a service which leaves Donegal early in the morning and returns late in the evening.
Mar is eol don Aire tá aer-thaisteal an-tábhachtach anois do chúrsaí eacnamaíochta agus d'fhorbairt eacnamaíochta. Sílim go bhfuil tábhacht faoi leith ag na haerphoirt réigiúnda mar cuireann siad ar chumas na réigiún dul in iomaíocht leis an chuid eile den tír agus le cathracha ar nós Baile Átha Cliath nuair a thagann sé go dtí cúrsaí eacnamaíochta.
Ba mhaith liom tagairt a dhéanamh don aerphort i dTír Chonaill atá suite sa Ghaeltacht agus atá airgeadaithe ag Údarás na Gaeltachta. Aerphort den scoth atá ann agus sílim go bhfuil úsáid iomlán á bhaint as i láthair na huaire Ach is easnamh mór é nach féidir le muintir Dhún na nGall taisteal go Baile Átha Cliath ar an eitleán ar maidin agus teacht abhaile arís tráthnóna. Is mór an trua nach bhfuil aon rud sa Bhille seo fá choinne an scéal sin a leigheas. Tá fhios agam gur bhuail toscaireacht leis an Aire cúpla seachtain ó shin, gur éist sí leis na gearáin a bhí ag an toscaireacht sin, agus gur chuir siad in a luí ar an Aire chomh tábhachtach is atá sé go mbeadh deis ag muintir Thír Chonaill taisteal go Baile Átha Cliath ar maidin agus a bheith sa bhaile tráthnóna. Tá fhios agam go bhfuil seirbhís idir Baile Átha Cliath  agus Doire agus cuirim fáilte roimh an tseirbhís sin. Tá sé tábhachtach go leanfaí ar aghaidh leis an tseirbhís sin ach ní leor an tseirbhís sin chun freastal ar mhuintir na Gaeltachta i dTír Chonaill nó ar mhuintir iarthar an chontae. Iarraim ar an Aire agus ar an Rialtas mar sin athmhacnamh a dhéanamh ar an cheist seo agus chomh luath agus is féidir deis a thabhairt dúinn sa Ghaeltacht agus in iarthar an chontae teacht ar eitleán go Baile Átha Cliath ar maidin agus filleadh abhaile tráthnóna an lá céanna. Tá mé buartha nach bhfuil sé sin sa Bhille seo agus tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh an tAire agus an Rialtas an cheist a scrúdú agus é a chur in a cheart chomh luath agus is féidir.
Mr. B. O'Keeffe Mr. B. O'Keeffe
Mr. B. O'Keeffe: I also welcome the Bill. Those of us who have been reading the newspapers in recent months are quite concerned about the near misses reported. Obviously the regulations included in the Bill are timely and are welcomed by everybody.
Setting up the commission to look at the bonding arrangements for travel companies is another timely intervention. We can all recall the companies which have gone to the wall. The case which is stuck in the minds of Cork people is the World Cup fiasco in the United States, where arrangements were made for individuals travelling to the World Cup who found not only that they did not have hotel reservations but in some instances that they had no tickets. The resulting difficulties led to a number of companies going to the wall. From that point of view the Bill is also welcome.
The Bill also gives me the opportunity to speak about the developments at Cork Airport compared with those at other airports. Cork Airport is regarded as the third international airport in Ireland. Looking at the success and growth of this airport compared with that of some of the others is a lesson in itself. There is major uncertainty about Cork Airport and the direction of its future development. That, in itself, is disconcerting. I have been a thorn in the side of the management and board of Aer Rianta because of the lack of investment in Cork over the years. I have always felt that Aer Rianta regards Cork Airport as the third airport which must be developed in time. However, such development will not be timely.
As a result of my ongoing interventions with the Minister and the board of Aer Rianta, last year in September the chairman of Aer Rianta announced formally the investment of £60 million at Cork Airport. Later in the year the chairman of Aer Rianta visited Cork and added fuel to the fire. During the visit he asked where the money was to come from, even though there had been an announcement in September. It would be quite accurate to say that a sod has not been turned at Cork Airport in the intervening 12 months. I am pleased, however, to note that, again as a result of ongoing rowing with the board of Aer Rianta and the welcome intervention of the Minister,  there now seems to be tangible evidence that this investment will go ahead.
It is also important to compare what has happened at Cork Airport with developments at its sister airport at Shannon. Roughly 1.7 million passengers use each of the two airports. While we in Cork wish Shannon Airport and Dublin Airport well and welcome the growth of both airports, we demand fair play and equitable treatment. We believe Cork Airport is not being treated equitably even though a similar number of passengers use Cork Airport and Shannon Airport. We are particularly concerned, for instance, that this year's marketing budget for Cork Airport is in the order of £450,000. It is interesting to note that the budget for Shannon Airport was £3 million over the past few years and there is even a suggestion that this year that budget might be as high as £5 million. That is not equitable, even though the passenger throughput is similar.
Previously I have stated publicly that we in Cork look at the markets we developed in Europe and the way the charter flights have been weaned away from Cork Airport suddenly to appear at Shannon Airport and ask, “How has this arisen?” Is it because they have a larger marketing budget or because inducements have been offered to these European charter companies? Is that why Shannon Airport has benefited enormously? Certainly we in Cork believe this is the case. This is the view held by many Cork people, particularly those who work at Cork Airport. There is no co-ordination of European marketing activity by Aer Rianta. If there are three international airports, why should one be pick-pocketing from another? Why is there no strategic plan to develop European charter services for the three airports? If Dublin is overloaded with traffic, why, particularly in the context of European charter services for tourists, does Aer Rianta not look seriously at the regional development of which the Government and every party in the Chamber speak? Since the bilateral agreement between the US and Ireland was changed and trans-Atlantic flights were allowed land in Dublin, anybody who looks at the development of tourism in Ireland will see clear evidence that Dublin and the east coast have benefited greatly from the tourist traffic. Whether in summer or winter, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get hotel accommodation in Dublin, irrespective of the enormous growth in the number of hotels in the city. Perhaps the time has come to review the development of Dublin and the regions and what is being done to attract tourists to Ireland. The review of the development of European charter services should focus on the airports at Shannon and Cork and on the regional airports. I would say to Aer Rianta and everybody involved that unless we co-ordinate our activities to attract these charter flights from European destinations to Cork and Shannon and unless we make clear that these inducements to Shannon no longer apply and state clearly that there will not be  further poaching, then our voices in Cork will continue to be heard on this issue.
I also want to look at the bilateral arrangement in the context of Cork Airport as an international airport. While I continue to be critical of the fact that in winter and when it is raining passengers at Cork Airport get drenched by the time they get into the terminal building, it is quite inconceivable that over the years Aer Rianta has allowed a situation to develop where there is not even one air bridge available at Cork Airport to accommodate passengers. Does that send out a signal that we are interested in looking after passengers? I am quite concerned also that due to the dramatic increase in the number of passengers using this airport, people have been forced to park in a field a quarter of a mile from the terminal building and that they must encounter considerable difficulties in trying to get luggage into the terminal building in the rain. Suddenly everything is about to change at the same time, but it begs the question, “Where does Cork Airport stand in the order of things?”
I stand behind the workers at Cork Airport. They would be foremost in my mind. I am confident that even under the present constrained arrangements, passenger numbers at Cork Airport will grow from 1.7 million to 2 million next year and that we will see this increase to 2.5 million over the next three years.
The rate of growth in this area is alarming. It is also alarming that we will not be able to continue to serve these passengers by way of an extension to the terminal. The terminal can cater for in the region of one million passengers, yet 1.7 million passengers are routed through the terminal at present.
Where do we go from here? The blank reality is that Cork does not have a member on the board of Aer Rianta. That is something which should be rectified to make sure the regional emphasis is part and parcel of the board. As the third airport in this country, Cork will continue to be the third airport in the mindset of Aer Rianta and its board and will always be developed as such.
We speak of transatlantic flights. We are told it is possible to get a charter company to fly to Cork Airport from the US. Earlier this year a serious effort was made and serious negotiations took place with a group in the United States so that a particular charter company could operate regular flights to Cork, but for some reason word got out and it was spiked. For some reason other airports in this country made contact with the same group and at the end of the day it did not happen for Cork. That is the type of thing about which we are talking – the selectivity, inequality and budget differential that exists. While that position exists between Shannon and Cork, talks with transatlantic charters will be spiked.
Transatlantic flights into the Cork and Kerry region are a vital part of tourism in the south-west region. The runway at Cork Airport needs to be extended to cater for such a development.  The bottom line is that if one looks at the Aer Rianta plan, one will see it is not part of its operational programme to 2005 but that it is part of a programme to 2010. It strikes me that the horse may have bolted by 2010. That does not face the reality, the demand and the major opportunity which is there for the development of tourism in the south-west region through Cork Airport. I would say to Aer Rianta, and particularly to make the Minister mindful of it, that it is necessary to tackle the extension of that runway so that the opportunity exists for regular flights into Cork.
The question is, “Where do we go from here?” There are people who will say Cork Airport should be totally privatised and that by privatising it, the necessary stimulus will be provided to accelerate the development of the airport. I am not in favour of that option. I and everybody connected with Aer Rianta know that the development of Cork Airport will be done in the context of the hind tit – it will be considered as the third airport which can grow at a snail's pace.
I am of the belief that there should be a private-public partnership arrangement in Cork Airport. I know many of the workers would be fearful of this option. The workers have absolutely nothing to fear from that option because the bottom line is that if we had a public-private partnership in Cork, it would be totally geared towards the promotion of Cork Airport, it would ensure the airport would stand side by side with Dublin Airport further down the road and would outstrip developments in Shannon and instead of job losses, more jobs would be created in Cork Airport, with greater opportunities and better infrastructure in the south-west region in terms of the development of tourism and it would be in the best interest of all of us. I hope the voice of Cork will be heard by the board of Aer Rianta.
Mr. Coveney Mr. Coveney
Mr. Coveney: I wish to share my time with Deputy Hayes.
An Ceann Comhairle Séamus Pattison
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Coveney Mr. Coveney
Mr. Coveney: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Aviation Regulation Bill, 2000. As an island nation, aviation is the most important means of access to Ireland from abroad and means of travel for Irish people travelling abroad. I welcome the fact that we now have a comprehensive Bill dealing with the independent regulation of the aviation industry.
Primarily, I want to use this opportunity to speak, as other Deputies have, on behalf of Cork Airport. The Bill deals with Cork, Shannon and Dublin airports. I am pleased Government Deputies from Cork are coming into the House to promote the activities at Cork Airport. For too long perhaps the political emphasis and pressure came from the Shannon region in terms of airports outside Dublin. Perhaps that political pressure is moving south. I welcome that, it is not before time.
 As I said, I want to use this opportunity to highlight issues in relation to Cork Airport and its vital role in the future development and prosperity of the south and, indeed, the south-west. The South West Regional Authority, since its establishment in 1994, has identified and continues to identify access as the major factor in the social and economic development of Cork county and surrounding areas. All forms of access must continue to be developed by the Government, whether road, rail, sea or telecommunications infrastructure as well as air transportation. If all these are invested in and developed, the southern region as a whole can continue to prosper and be a real alternative for investment to the Dublin area. That is what is needed. In the Government's national development plan, a very clear emphasis is put on the role of the south-west and Cork region as a counterbalance to the rapid development of Dublin.
The growth in passenger numbers travelling through Cork Airport in recent years is testament to the huge number of people who will come into the region if provided with proper and consistent access. Cork international airport is one of the fastest growing regional airports in Europe. Passenger numbers have doubled in the past six years and continue to grow rapidly. As Deputy Batt O'Keeffe pointed out, between 1.6 million and 1.7 million passengers passed through Cork Airport this year and within the next three years it is estimated that 2.5 million passengers will pass through the airport.
Against this background of growth and pressure on the airport to expand to cater for increasing demand, Aer Rianta's announcement last year of a £60 million investment package was welcomed by everybody in Cork. However, the stalling in relation to the implementation of this investment plan is very worrying. Very little has happened in relation to the construction necessary to get this expansion project under way. The only thing that has physically happened is the commencement of building for the new airport hotel in Cork, which is not even part of the £60 million package. The Minister of State does not need to be reminded that Cork Airport has a capacity of just one million passengers, therefore, it is currently operating at in excess of 50% above its capacity.
The main Aer Rianta investment proposals – I will not go into them in too much detail because other Cork Deputies have done so – include a significant expansion of the airport terminal; the provision of air bridges to allow passengers to walk directly from their planes to a terminal so that there will no longer be the prehistoric situation of people having to walk in the lashing rain for 100 or 150 yards from an airplane to the airport terminal; the provision of increased parking spaces for planes and the provision of multi-storey car parking facilities for people leaving their cars at the airport over the weekend or for longer periods. As already pointed out, people must  park in a grass field as an overflow long-term car park at present. The provision of improved facilities and space for cargo traffic is also necessary and a priority in the Aer Rianta plans.
These changes are a necessity, not a luxury, for Cork Airport if its status is to be brought into line with other international airports. We have now reached a crucial point in the history of air travel in the Cork region. The airport will be allowed either to continue as primarily a feeder airport to Dublin and react to increased passenger growth levels as they occur or it can fundamentally change its role and become an alternative national access point to Dublin and Shannon. The latter is the ambition we should all have, whether we come from Cork or Dublin, for the sake of both cities and regions. A Cork Airport consultative committee is now being set up, made up of a variety of concerned individuals, including politicians, to ensure that promises are kept on behalf of the Government and Aer Rianta and that our ambitions become a reality in the not too distant future.
Studies have shown that the catchment area for Cork Airport continues to expand into areas such as Kilkenny and Clonmel, as well as westward and eastward from Cork. This market share has been achieved with what can only be described as a relatively modest number of direct international destinations within Europe and an unsatisfactory level of internal services through Cork Airport. It is important to acknowledge the positive role Aer Rianta has played in continuing to attract an increasing level of direct European destinations, particularly at week ends, in flights out of Cork. However, it cannot continue to do this without the immediate expansion plans being put into action. One could say that Cork Airport, which has been given only a small marketing budget compared to Shannon, despite the fact that they had the same passenger numbers, has been a victim of its own success. Cork Airport cannot continue to grow unless the investment is put in place. When we hear worrying reports that Aer Rianta may have difficulty finding the money for this expansion, we must ask questions.
Air transportation and aviation infrastructure should be no different from road infrastructure, rail infrastructure and the infrastructure put in place in ports throughout the country. It is about allowing people to move, whether on business, holiday or visiting friends. If necessary, the Government should provide direct funding to develop airports, both regional and international, just as is the case in relation to the road and rail infrastructure. There is no difference as far as I am concerned.
On the lack of internal flights, at present it is not possible to fly from Cork to Shannon. If someone from the Cork region, which continues to grow, wishes to fly to the USA but does not wish to drive to Shannon and leave their car there, they must fly to Dublin, back to Shannon and then across the Atlantic. This means they must take two flights before they set off across  the Atlantic, which does not make sense. I do not think this treats people equally or attracts people equally to the Cork and south-west region?
Cork is the second city of Ireland, yet from an airport point of view, it is not being given any importance. I welcome the plans for expansion outlined by Aer Rianta. They will solve many problems but I am sceptical they will be implemented in the timescale which has been pointed out. This is why so many Deputies are speaking on behalf of Cork Airport both on the Government and Opposition sides. We are all sceptical until we see the evidence. If one looks at the history of our aviation policy, one will see that Shannon and Dublin consistently receive priority and Cork Airport has been left behind in many cases. If it were not for the marketing skills and drive of the Aer Rianta staff at Cork Airport, it would have fallen even further behind.
I wish to comment on the transatlantic routes and the fact that Cork Airport has been squeezed out in this area. Given that the USA is a popular destination for Irish people going on holiday, and particularly for American tourists coming to Ireland, it is unacceptable in modern Ireland that there are no direct flights from the USA to Cork Airport. I do not accept that the runway at the airport is not long enough, my information is that it is long enough for international transatlantic flights. I do not think the people of the south-west should have to put up with this inconvenience from a business or social point of view. This is about much more than just air access, it is about tourism revenue, economic development and social movement. People throughout the country, including the south and south-west region, should be entitled to this facility like people in Dublin and the Shannon area.
Mr. Hayes Mr. Hayes
Mr. Hayes: I am pleased to have an opportunity to comment on this Bill which has been generally welcomed on all sides of the House. I will not add a dissenting voice in respect of the contributions which have been made on all sides.
It is fair to say this is not a national policy in relation to air travel. We still await a national policy in this regard from the Government. The fact is we have an under-resourced regional airport structure and, despite the odd crumbs that may fall from the Cabinet table to regional airports in Galway, Waterford and so on, we lag far behind most EU countries in respect of internal domestic flights between one region of the country and another. The Bill makes no provision for this aspect.
I welcome the establishment of the commission and its new powers in respect of landing charges and operations. This is a useful way in which to deal with such a public utility. This has also been used in other areas of public policy. However, I have a number of questions on the legislation to which I would be grateful for a reply from the Minister of State. Section 2 refers to “airport user” as meaning any person responsible for the carriage of passengers, mail or freight by air to  or from an airport. That is an entirely deficient definition of an airport user. There is no reference to the passenger in this. If one looks at sections 5 to 16 and the new commission which will be established, there is no consumer's voice in respect of the commission. The commission will operate in the role of a chief executive of a semi-State company in terms of establishing charges and putting in place an administrative structure. It is deficient in that the consumer's or passenger's voice will not be one of the commissioners. Section 16 allows for the appointment of up to three commissioners. The voice of the consumer – the passenger – should be included in a pool of contenders for one of these positions. I ask the Minister to reply to this proposal on Committee Stage.
This House has a tendency to set up bodies to administer aspects of State policy but I often wonder if we give these boards the necessary resources. Section 12 refers to the staff of the commission. I hope the commission will be properly staffed and that a sufficient number of authorising officers are appointed to implement policy on the ground. I have too much experience of inadequately staffed bodies.
I welcome section 27(3), which states that the commission shall account for the performance of its functions to a joint committee of the Oireachtas. It makes sense for the commission to come before the relevant committee annually to outline its work for a 12 month period. However, the legislation should be much more prescriptive in stating that the commissioners should come before a joint committee at least annually. Such a provision should be included on Committee Stage.
My problems begin with section 46. This section, which is neatly placed under the heading, “Miscellaneous Amendments”, ensures that if any civilian operation is to take place in a military aerodrome, such as Baldonnel in my own constituency, the Minister may, “with the consent of the Minister for Defence, for the purpose of the licensing and regulation of aerodromes and the regulation of aeronautical safety standards at aerodromes, prescribe in regulations that sections 58(1) and 60, and such other provisions of this Act as specified in the regulations, shall apply to civil aviation operations at such aerodromes under the control of the Minister for Defence as may be specified in the regulations”.
The Minister for Defence and his Department have a veto on all developments close to Baldonnel or any other military aerodrome. This is a wrong approach, particularly as the Government has not made up its mind regarding development at Baldonnel. Every so often during the past three years the Tánaiste has referred to her plans, if we can call them such, to develop Baldonnel but no decision has been taken at Cabinet regarding the aerodrome. Section 46 has been quietly stitched in at the end of this Bill giving extensive powers to the Minister for Defence and reinforc ing the veto which he already has. As a member of South Dublin County Council, I am fed up receiving diktats from the Department of Defence in respect of any development at Baldonnel. The Department is now holding up the development of a major sports stadium, Eircom Park, because it disagrees with its location in the south-west of Dublin. I want to see this veto removed. It is time for the Government to state clearly its intentions with regard to Baldonnel. Is it to be developed as a commercial entity? Is an executive jet service to be provided? What is to be done with the airport? We have been asking these questions for the past three years but we have not been given answers. Section 46 is of no relevance to the Bill. I would like the Minister to explain its inclusion.
I welcome section 49. However, the new penalty of £1,500 for air rage offences is not sufficient. We must increase the deterrents and I hope we will do so on Committee Stage.
I endorse the comments of Deputy McGinley regarding regional airport development in the north-west. Unemployment in County Donegal is the highest in the country. It is impossible to get in or out of the region. Only one flight goes from Dublin to Derry and from Derry to Dublin every day. We need a proper regional airport policy. The Government does not have such a policy and this legislation will make very little difference to that.
Mr. Kelleher Mr. Kelleher
Mr. Kelleher: The number of Deputies offering to speak in this debate is an indication of the importance of air transport. A large number of informative contributions were made in the Seanad and I am glad to hear the Minister undertake to consider seriously the contributions from all sides in the Seanad.
The primary purpose of the Bill is to establish a commission with responsibility for five policy areas, the approval of airport and air traffic control charges; the approval of ground handling service providers at airports; the granting of operating licences to air carriers established in Ireland; the administration of the rules governing the allocation of take-off and landing slots at airports; and the licensing and bonding of travel agents and tour operators. It is appropriate, when there is such an upsurge in air travel in and out of Ireland, that such an imaginative Bill be introduced to regulate the aviation industry.
For many years Irish airports have been underfunded, none more so than Cork Airport. The terminal structure in Cork was intended to cater for a maximum of 1 million people. It now caters for 1.6 million and it is envisaged that in two years it will cater for 2.5 million. Cork Airport has been badly treated by Aer Rianta which has favoured Dublin and Shannon airports. Were it not for the work of the staff at Cork Airport the position would be even worse. The management of Cork Airport has lobbied internally for extra funding for the airport. I pay particular trib ute to CAAB and its chairman, Donal Harris, for highlighting issues regarding Cork Airport. While a commitment to spend £60 million on developing Cork Airport over the next number of years is welcome, nothing tangible has been done. This is a cause of concern for the staff of the airport and for the wider community in Cork. The fact that Ireland is an island places huge importance on air travel and quality airports for the people arriving in the country. If regional development is to be encouraged, we must ensure that better facilities are available for air travellers and Cork Airport is suffering badly in this regard.
Shannon Airport has a larger marketing budget. Over the years, Cork Airport has not received equitable treatment in terms of marketing and funding from Aer Rianta and other agencies from which Shannon Airport can extract funds. This has put Cork Airport at a disadvantage. While the £60 million investment plan is welcome, it is not enough if regional imbalances are to be addressed. The capital city is bursting at the seams and there is traffic gridlock and a lack of quality public transport. It is a vibrant city, but it is beginning to stifle itself. I do not understand why more emphasis is not placed on developing greater facilities at airports such as Cork and Shannon.
The national development plan will involve the expenditure of £40 billion over the next six years on developing the economy, infrastructure and other areas. The development of the road structure creates great opportunities for Shannon and Cork airports. For example, there is talk of a motorway or high quality dual carriageway from Cork to Dublin within six years and this would increase accessibility to Cork Airport. This is the type of project that should be considered rather than directing all the funding and development into the already congested area of Dublin.
We should be brave and take a policy decision to encourage air travel into Cork and Shannon airports. I am confident the national development plan will ensure a proper road structure is in place in a few years which will cater for people who wish to travel from Cork to other parts of the country. It does not make sense to fly people to Dublin, put them in taxis or buses to bring them to Heuston train station and then transport them down the country. We must open up the country and ensure that Cork Airport can cater for larger carriers.
Reference was made to transatlantic flights and I have a major difficulty with the fact that there are no transatlantic flights to Cork Airport. Another speaker referred to the proposal made last year that a carrier would bring people from Boston to Cork Airport. This was reported in the newspaper and it was stated that Cork would benefit tremendously from it. However, something spiked it and my belief is that there is favouritism within the Aer Rianta management system towards Shannon and Dublin. This is to the detriment of Cork.
Regarding inward investment, a quarter of all US investment in the European Union is located  in Ireland. If we want to continue to attract that type of investment in terms of high quality jobs and facilities, Ireland must be made more accessible from the United States. There should be direct flights from the east coast of America to Cork. There is no traffic congestion in Cork and it also has a large hinterland that could support industry, a quality port, universities and an institute of technology. There are IDA centres throughout Cork and the southern Munster region. The necessary infrastructure is already in place and the only difficulty is that people cannot get to it.
For example, if one is travelling to Cork from New York, Washington or Boston, one must fly to Shannon and then on to Dublin. One must then either fly or get a train to Cork. This is unacceptable for business people and it is an area where the regional imbalances could be addressed. There is continual talk about the fact that the east coast is overcrowded, that too much funding is being given to it and that there is not enough investment in the regions. Making Cork accessible in areas where there is huge potential for more investment is an obvious way to address the imbalance. The United States should be targeted in that regard.
Cork Airport has no air bridges and there are no parking facilities for aeroplanes or passengers' cars. These issues were neglected in the past and efforts are being made to address them now. The £60 million investment proposal over the next five years is intended to increase the terminal capacity to handle 2.5 million passengers per annum by 2003 and to facilitate further expansion thereafter to handle up to 5 million passengers per annum. If Cork Airport had a level playing pitch, it could reach those targets in advance of the timescale outlined by Aer Rianta with regard to the investment.
The development of facilities must be expedited and there is concern in Cork that Aer Rianta at a national level has dragged its feet and that it has not been fully committed to the funding programme outlined in Cork last year. I have been in contact with the company and it told me in a letter that it is pushing ahead but issues arose in relation to planning and other matters. However, £60 million will not address the fundamental problems. It will address the problems that have arisen to date, but it will not cater for future developments.
Given that 1.6 million passengers already use the airport and there is an expectation that this figure will increase to 2.5 million by 2003, a new report on Cork Airport should be commissioned now. It is certain that by the time the current plan has been implemented, it will be necessary to raise the issue in the House with the relevant Minister and to write to Aer Rianta seeking more funding because the airport is underfunded. This happened in Dublin. Work was done there but airline companies are not satisfied with the quality of service provided by Dublin Airport for passengers, although the airport was always the  favourite from the point of view of Aer Rianta. It is obvious that this will also happen in Cork in the future. While the short-term problems with regard to the passenger and cargo terminals, parking facilities for aircraft and air bridges are being addressed, a new study should be commissioned now to consider the future of Cork Airport.
Regarding the extension of the runway, reference was made to the fact that aircraft from the United States cannot fly into Cork Airport. One hears that an aircraft fully laden with passengers, luggage and fuel cannot take off from Cork Airport and fly directly to the United States. If that is the case, the problem must be addressed. We cannot expect an airline to fly people from Cork Airport to Shannon, refuel its aeroplane and fly from there to the United States. There is little difference in the distance between Cork and Shannon airports and the east coast of the United States, but the need to take off from Cork, land in Shannon, refuel an aircraft and take off again for the United States could involve passengers having to sit on an aeroplane for an extra two hours.
However, given the changing technology on aircraft which allows them to take off from shorter runways, I am not sure if this is an inhibiting factor in Cork Airport. I ask the Minister to clarify the position. If the largest aircraft that can land in Dublin and Shannon cannot land in Cork, an immediate extension of the runway must be included in the programme to upgrade Cork Airport. In the future, representatives in Cork Airport will approach charter companies to operate routes from the United States to Cork. However, there will always be a difficulty unless fully laden aircraft can take off from the airport and the routes are commercially viable. Shannon and Dublin airports will always be able to undermine Cork Airport's efforts in this area. I would welcome clarification from the Minister on this point. A person would be amazed to find that Cork Airport does not have a representative on the board. This shows the imbalance, the lack of a level playing pitch when it comes to Cork Airport's position in the pecking order with Aer Rianta. That was pointed out already with regard to investment but the fact that Cork Airport does not have a member on the board must be addressed immediately if we are to instil confidence in the people in Cork that Aer Rianta will deliver for Cork Airport. Surely, an obvious way to address that issue would be to have a person on the board from Cork Airport, to give it a voice.
There was a reference to the fact that Governments in the past did not support Cork Airport and that there was probably a bigger political lobby in Shannon. I have no doubt that is the case. Any mention of a downgrading of Shannon led to a massive outcry from public representatives of all persuasions and hues, some of which was quite hysterical at times. However, Shannon protected itself and fought a tough battle for a  long time. People will argue that since the restrictions on direct flights into Dublin were lifted, Shannon has been downgraded and there is now a complete imbalance with regard to tourism figures. The bed night numbers have gone up dramatically in Dublin and down along the western seaboard. I do not know whether that is because of the lifting of the direct flight restrictions but it should be examined.
Equally, one can argue that it is madness that a person has to fly from Boston to land in Shannon, sit in a plane for three quarters of an hour and take off again and fly to Dublin. If we are to have direct flights, the plane should fly from Boston to Dublin or Boston to Shannon but do not ask that every second plane must land in Shannon. This would damage transatlantic air travel. If more development and funding was provided for Cork and Shannon airports, they could fight their own battles and have a strategic, coherent policy in place whereby Shannon Airport would target certain cities in the United States and Cork Airport would target others. The idea of one airport spending its budget undermining another airport within the same company is unpalatable and unacceptable. That has been happening. It was already referred to with regard to the undermining of Cork Airport in trying to attract a US carrier into Cork from the east coast.
Cork has been successful in niche marketing with regard to flights to Paris and Amsterdam. I am confident that those will expand over time and become more regular, which is very beneficial. Cork Airport is also doing exceptionally well with flights to the south of Spain. This is an area which has taken off with regard to tourism figures. A great many people from the southern part of Munster or greater Munster and parts of south Leinster are using Cork Airport to fly to Spain because with improving road infrastructure, Cork Airport is becoming more accessible to more people. Rather than a person who is living in Kilkenny or Clonmel having to drive all the way to Dublin through traffic with the hassles involved, they can drive to a small airport, encountering no problems with traffic congestion in the city itself. The only problem concerns traffic congestion in the airport. While the £60 million investment is very welcome I predict that we will be back in two or three years time stating that funding will have to be reviewed and the whole plan will go back to the drawing board. We will bring forward another proposal for more funding to develop the airport in the years 2010 to 2020 because capacity will be at crisis point. Why not do this now? We should consider setting up a group that can project the demands that will be placed on Cork Airport and start developing it in a coherent, planned way. Perhaps the Minister could clarify whether US-bound air carriers can take off from Cork Airport on the length of runway currently available.
I look forward to a speedy passage of the Bill  through the Houses. It is timely in view of all the comments made in this House and in the Seanad.
Ms O'Sullivan Ms O'Sullivan
Ms O'Sullivan: Balance is very important in aviation. It can make the difference between flying smoothly to one's destination or rocketing down to the ground. Balance is important in this debate as well. I am glad to contribute as a representative from the Shannon region. The Cork corner has been well represented here. The common thread running through what others have said and what I want to say is that we need both an aviation policy and a regional policy in which to sit this debate. That is part of the problem. We do not have clear policies about aviation and as a subtext to that, we do not have a regional policy in which these kinds of decisions can be made. That is why so many of us are taking the opportunity to use a Bill which is really about organisational and operational matters, to debate the broader issues in relation to airports, particularly the three international airports. These organisational and operational matters would be greatly improved if there was more of a balance between the three international airports in terms of both freight and passenger traffic. Therefore, it is important that we discuss regional policy when we discuss this issue. It should not be a battle between Cork and Shannon. I say that as a representative of the Shannon region and I will not try one-upmanship against Cork. Both areas need much more concentration in terms of national effort in order to counterbalance the development of the east coast, where a huge number of people use Dublin Airport, where far too many people are living, where far too much stress and pressure are put on the public transport and road systems and where there seems to be a very strong marketing push to add to that and to look for perhaps a second airport or a significant extension of the existing airport. If we had a proper regional and aviation policy, we would instead consider referring the business to both Shannon and Cork airports, which both have the capacity, perhaps not the physical capacity in the case of Cork Airport, but where there is an opportunity to develop both Shannon and Cork airports for the benefit of the country. It is not good for the east coast or for Dublin to have this overcrowding and constant drain on various capacities. There should be more emphasis both on Shannon and Cork airports in terms of achieving a proper balance. Many people must use Dublin Airport currently, although they are living much closer to either Shannon or Cork. This is partly because so many of the airlines are being attracted to Dublin and partly because of inadequate road structures and public transport.
I am making an argument for an aviation policy and a regional policy that would redress that balance and try to establish much stronger markets in both Shannon and Cork, where as previous Deputies said, approximately 1.7 million passengers use both of those airports now, with Dublin far outstripping both of them.
 In arguing a case for Shannon, I say that Shannon is extremely important as an international airport, not just to the mid-west but also to the west, the midlands and part of the south-west. If the available figures were updated it would be seen that 30,000 to 40,000 jobs depend directly on Shannon Airport. That does not just include jobs in the airport itself but in industry, tourism and so on in the mid-west and other regions. It is essential to maintain the strength of the airport in order to retain those jobs and ensure they are viable. That is the reason people of all political persuasions and with various interests have come together to make sure Shannon Airport is not downgraded. I make no apology for that to people from Cork or elsewhere. I would encourage them to do likewise. The health and strength of an international airport are of great importance to a region. We in Shannon will continue to work together to ensure the airport is developed and strengthened and continues to be the instrument that it is for the growth of industry and tourism in the region.
There is a need to work on marketing as mentioned by Deputy Kelleher and others. When people abroad buy airline tickets they are automatically directed to Dublin. Those who wish to visit the west end up flying into Dublin and making their way to the region into which they could have flown in the first place. The Shannon marketing company is working hard on this issue but it needs the backup of Government policy which should direct more and more tourists into areas other than Dublin, which is bursting at the seams. There are not enough hotels or bednights available in Dublin whereas such facilities in other areas are underutilised. Such a balance would be in the national interest.
There is a need to improve the road and rail networks into Shannon and Cork. There are commitments in the national plan regarding links to the west and south-east but other bottlenecks must be addressed. The Newmarket-on-Fergus bypass is an obvious example. Anyone who has been caught in traffic there will know what I am talking about. In Limerick city work is ongoing on a fourth river crossing and a bypass on the eastern side of the Shannon. However, there is a need for a bypass on the Clare side of the Shannon linking the Dublin Road as it enters Limerick across to the Shannon Road. I read recently in The Nenagh Guardian that people in the Birdhill area in north Tipperary, which is close to Limerick, said approximately 200 cars pass along a narrow rural road every half an hour. Drivers avoid Limerick city by cutting across from the Dublin Road towards the Shannon-Ennis Road area. If there were a bypass it would not only solve problems for people in the area, it would make it easier for those living in Roscrea, Tullamore, Nenagh and Athlone to access Shannon Airport in a reasonable time. At present most people find it easier to go to Dublin because of the road network. There is a proposal to have a rail link between Limerick city and Shannon and that  should be looked at positively. It would help to bring tourists from the city to the airport.
I have been asked by workers in Shannon Airport to raise some issues on the specifics of the Bill. As regards the regulation aspects of the commission, will it deal with Aer Rianta as a central body or will there be leverage for individual airports to make their case? There is a suspicion both in Cork and Shannon that Aer Rianta tends to be Dublin dominated. There is concern that decisions could be made in Aer Rianta that might be disadvantageous to either Cork or Shannon or to both. How will issues such as operating licences, designation of airports as co-ordinated airports under the relevant EU regulations, approval of ground handling service providers at airports, licensing and bonding of tour operators and travel agents and charges be dealt with in terms of the individual airport vis-à-vis the remit of Aer Rianta? Those working in Shannon Airport have pointed out that this is not made clear in the Bill and perhaps the Minister will clarify the matter.
Deputy Hayes mentioned air rage. This is dealt with in section 49. Having read newspaper reports today there is a need for a balance as regards the powers of the police and the airport authorities. The rights of the individual members of a GAA team were violated on the basis of the behaviour of some members of the team and not only the team but those with them, including the team doctor. They were in the terminal and were not allowed to board their flight. We must ensure that the rights of innocent people are protected and that must be balanced with the powers of the airport police. The individual whose behaviour is causing a problem should be dealt with in as tough a way as is necessary but we must ensure innocent people are not punished.
I have no difficulty with the general points in the Bill. However, the Government must concentrate on the issues of regional balance that are thrown up in any discussion on aviation.
Mr. Crawford Mr. Crawford
Mr. Crawford: I thank the Chair for allowing me to contribute to this important debate. My colleagues have dealt with the specifics of the Bill and I will deal with those that affect the area I represent. Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair give a good service as Irish aircraft carriers. Aer Lingus is the main company. However, there is no doubt but that for the involvement of Ryanair airfares would be much higher than they are today. Tourism is one of our biggest industries and both airlines have contributed to its growth. However, there are serious problems as far as services at Dublin Airport are concerned.
The stopover at Shannon must be re-examined. If we are to encourage more tourists from Canada and the US we must ensure they have the easiest possible access to this country, otherwise they will fly to London and remain there for some time instead of flying directly to Ireland. The Border region suffers as a result. When I first began to travel through Dublin Airport the number of  passengers was very small. One could arrive 15 minutes before the departure time, be sure of getting on the plane and arrive at one's destination on time. The situation has changed dramatically in recent years. One of the last times I travelled on a Friday morning it was virtually impossible to locate the other people who had the tickets and with whom I had planned to travel. It was not a joke trying to get to the ticket desk in time for our international flight. I know of others who had greater difficulty on flights to the UK, which is the most popular destination from Dublin Airport. Aer Rianta must deal with the situation as a matter of urgency to ensure that people do not have to queue for hours to fly out of the country. While those of us who live here do not have a choice, there is no doubt that tourists and business people will get fed up if the current situation is allowed to continue.
The new changes leave a lot to be desired. Perhaps one reason for the problems is that people are appointed for political reasons rather than for their ability. I question how chairpersons and others are appointed and what role they play in how the system operates. Ryanair and others have made many demands about setting up a separate airport or an additional airport terminal. The Government must make every effort to ensure there is easier and quicker access to Dublin Airport so that people will not be frustrated and tourists and business people will not stop using it.
Given that access is important, one must question the Government's commitment to develop the road and rail infrastructure to Dublin Airport. Almost four years ago the Taoiseach visited Monaghan and gave a guarantee that he would provide proper access from Monaghan to Dublin. Three bypasses were proposed but nothing has happened three and a half years later. One sod has not been dug. It is unacceptable at a time when the country is awash with funds that a Border area, which has suffered more than most over the past 30 years as a result of the Troubles, is being completely ignored. Consultants are studying the proposals for the three bypasses, which are being sent back and forth like yo-yos to the National Roads Authority. However, progress has not been made.
There is a belief in Monaghan that an effort is being made to stymie this process so that funds which will be available from Europe over the next few years will be utilised somewhere else. Perhaps the Taoiseach would rather spend £1 billion on the national stadium. The people in my constituency are extremely frustrated that nothing is happening when money is supposed to be available. There is also no railway in the constituency. There is no doubt that efforts could be made to bring a railway into the southern part of it through Navan which would give easier access to the people. Other Members have spoken about this need in their regions. We want airports to be  managed properly and we want easier access to them.
Access to some of the Northern ports is important for an area which has a 100 mile long border with Northern Ireland. There should be as much co-operation as possible between our Ministers and the Ministers of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. Some Members of this House will use Belfast Airport in the next two weeks to fly to Edinburgh. I hope under the new agreement there will be more co-operation between the Scottish Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and ourselves because we have a lot in common. I hope discussions will take place between our Ministers to ensure these links are opened up.
I am not suggesting Monaghan should have a regional airport but we must ensure that the airports available give the best possible service to the Border region. That region is among the lowest in terms of tourist figures and it is the least developed. The only way to encourage tourists into the area is to provide easy access to Dublin Airport or to Belfast Airport. I recently visited Canada on behalf of Monaghan County Council. It is totally unacceptable that it can take three or four flights to get from Canada to Northern Ireland and the Border region. There should be direct flights from Dublin to Toronto and vice versa. Unfortunately, Air Canada has a monopoly in Toronto. We sat in the airport in Toronto for more than 24 hours without being told why there was a delay. Monopolies are not good.
The country has never had so much money. Areas, such as the Border region which has suffered more than any other region in the past 30 years of the Troubles, can no longer be ignored. The Government must ensure that air access is available for industry, tourism and the general well being of the community. That can only be done if Dublin Airport is completely restructured and if passengers get a proper service, which they are not getting at present.
I always enjoy flying with Aer Lingus and, to a lesser extent, with Ryanair. However, the hassle of getting in and out of Dublin Airport is completely unacceptable. If it is unacceptable for us as citizens, it must be totally frustrating for tourists and if tourists are frustrated, the chances of them coming back a second time are extremely small. This cannot be ignored. The Celtic tiger is providing an opportunity to get things done. There is no point saying it is being planned or committees are being set up to deal with it because we want it done now.
Mr. O'Flynn Mr. O'Flynn
Mr. O'Flynn: I wish to share my time with Deputy Dennehy.
An Ceann Comhairle Séamus Pattison
An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. O'Flynn Mr. O'Flynn
Mr. O'Flynn: I welcome the Bill which provides the basis for independent regulation of State airports, a sector which continues to play a critical part in the economy and supports growth in many  areas. The purpose of the Bill is to establish a regulatory body to be known as the Commission for Aviation Regulation. The new commission will have responsibility for five different areas of policy, namely, the approval of airport and air traffic control charges, the regulation of the ground handling markets at airports, the granting of operating licences to air carriers established in Ireland, the administration of the rules governing the allocation of take-off and landing slots at airports and the licensing and bonding of travel agents and tour operators. While I welcome that, the regulator will, at long last, create a level playing field in terms of the regional airports.
I have spoken in this House on other aviation legislation and in support of my colleagues' views on regional airports and Cork Airport. I was delighted to be a member of the regional authorities support group, which comprises members from Cork Corporation, Cork County Council and Kerry County Council. Its purpose is to create a political grouping to lobby in the same successful way as the Shannon region has done. We intend to make a positive impact on the future of Cork Airport. For example, we are determined to ensure that transatlantic flights use the airport, which is vital to its long-term success. I demand that the Government facilitates these services.
Over the years Cork Airport has developed by leaps and bounds. The new e-commerce technology park is hard to equal. It is a joint venture between Aer Rianta, ICC Bank and private business interests. Several thousand people are employed in high technology jobs in the park. The Great Southern Hotel group has, not before time, built a new hotel. It will be ready for business in January, but will not officially open until March. It will generate more business for the airport and the technology park and will help to make the airport the international airport it has become, and should have been a long time ago.
I understand that approximately 640 hectares are available to the airport, which will allow for plenty of expansion. The new cargo handling facilities, located on a 40 acre site, are about to commence. More importantly, the airport has a dedicated staff committed to the people of the region and the development and success of the airport. I praise the manager, Joe O'Connor, especially for the leadership he has given his staff and the marketing manager, John Smith, who has done so much to attract new airlines to the airport in the face of incredible competition from other regional airports.
Aer Lingus charges £92 for a return flight from Cork to Dublin. That is airway robbery, especially when one can travel to the UK with Ryanair for as little as £5 or £10, depending on seat availability. I hope Mr. O'Leary of Ryanair will consider providing flights from Cork to Dublin to provide a more competitive fare of £40 to £50. I am sure this will increase passenger traffic.
I praise the management of the airport for introducing new routes to Amsterdam – the ser vice has been extended this week – Brussels and Paris. These are very successful. The management has coped well with the loss of duty free shopping, which was a big blow to all airports involved in passenger traffic. Sky shopping is doing well, but the loss of duty free sales in drink and tobacco has dampened the profits of Aer Rianta. However, increased passenger traffic and the ancillary businesses, in the business park, hotel and cargo will more than sustain the airport in the future.
Dublin Airport is like a zoo. It is expected to handle approximately 13 million passengers this year. Passengers from Cork face such a long walk to the arrivals terminal that many are ready to be taken away by stretcher, although there has been a change to this in the past few days and the walk is now considerably shorter. Immigration controls cause further delays. I am very disappointed with the way the security staff do their work. The car driver, who provides the airport with huge revenue and makes a big contribution to its viability, is the victim. He must park his car miles from the terminal building and pay high charges, despite the very limited access to the departures terminal and the impossibility of accessing the arrivals hall. I am unhappy with the way the airport conducts its business. Thank God Cork Airport does not face the same problems, where the management is friendly and personal and shows respect for the customer.
The Minister has recently confirmed the extent of the investment in Cork Airport. The allocation of £60 million, which the Opposition claimed would not be provided, has been allocated and work has started. Much of it is completed and the remainder will continue over the next five years. The cargo facilities have been updated, the air-field and main runway have been overlaid with asphalt and widened by the provision of 7.5 metre shoulders on each side. This upgrading will last for 15 to 20 years, it cost £6 million and was completed last year, despite what the Opposition said on numerous occasions. An apron extension and a new taxi-way have been provided. An upgrading of the existing taxi-way is about to commence. It will cost £8 million and take approximately 18 months to complete. It will allow more aircraft to be parked on the runway.
It is expected that 2.5 million passengers will use the airport by 2003. We hope the new extension and developments will allow for a growth in passenger numbers to five million. The new cargo facilities will cost several million pounds. The airport has one air-bridge, which means passengers should ideally travel on a dry day. I am pleased to note the provision for the construction of six air-bridges over the next five years. Provision is also made for the extension of the terminal buildings, and the construction of high rise and surface car parks. In addition, when completed, the entrance gateway – which a member of the Progressive Democrats likened to the entrance to a farm – will be magnificent.
The layout of the airport is very user-friendly.  Passengers can get a parking spot in the knowledge that staff and officials will treat them properly. The airport is in the constituency of my colleague, Deputy Dennehy, who has done tremendous work to ensure that no part of the airport is sold to private ownership. I hope the Minster will tell her colleagues who have not yet seen the light to keep their hands off the airport. They will not sell it on our watch.
Mr. Dennehy Mr. Dennehy
Mr. Dennehy: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. A sign has been erected outside Cork Airport which reads, “Cork Airport Strike – Not For Sale” and I support that message which should be strongly conveyed to my Government colleagues. When Cork Airport sought funding at a time when it was struggling slightly, very few offers were received from the private sector. The airport is now a huge success by anyone's standards and everyone seems to want a slice of the action. I am aware that the Government is pursuing a public-private partnership policy but I believe Cork Airport will continue to do well with its existing programmes and staff complement.
One of the mid-west Deputies offered us advice this morning to the effect that we should organise ourselves along the lines of the mid-western lobby on Shannon Airport and I agree with that. It is imperative that politicians work together on these matters. The Cork Airport support group is co-ordinated by the south-west regional authority and I, like Deputy O'Flynn, am happy to be a member of the group.
I have worked closely over the years with staff at Cork Airport, which is located a quarter of a mile from my home. The majority of workers in the airport are constituents of mine but, even if they were not, I would still be working on their behalf in the context of the airport being a regional facility. The airport is assisting the development of the entire south-west region and, while I wish the people in the mid-west luck with their efforts, we will be seeking a level playing pitch. That has not happened and I hope there will be equality of opportunity in this area, be it in the form of a promotional company such as the one established in Limerick, the additional funding provided for Shannon Airport or the directives that people must fly into Shannon. These measures are, however, very artificial. Shannon Airport is essential to the survival of the mid-west but when artificial measures are introduced, they pose certain threats.
In contrast to Shannon, Cork Airport has developed very naturally in the absence of any support. It has never received any hand-outs and has had to battle for any funding it received. The airport's success has caused some difficulties in that the airport is trying to keep pace with its growing number of customers.
Speakers have, understandably, been parochial in their contributions and have highlighted the  needs of their own areas. While I am doing the same, I feel we should also look at the national picture. The Bill is critically important in this context. Aviation is more important to Ireland than almost all other European countries, with the exception of the UK. As an island, we have faced certain handicaps. The EU has been committed to the provision of funding for shipping ports and – to a lesser extent – airports. Sea ports have received huge levels of EU assistance but we did not avail of the optimum potential EU funding available for our airports. We were far too modest. Some £60 million has been sanctioned for developments at Cork Airport but even that is too modest. We must consider the current increases in air traffic and projected figures for 20 years' time. Our current programmes will not keep pace at Shannon, Dublin or Cork. We should be far more far-sighted and optimistic about the future.
The debate on this Bill has been used as an opportunity to take side swipes at various projects. I want to refer for a moment to Baldonnel Airport. There has been a repeated suggestion that there is a hidden agenda in regard to the airport which is connected to the prevention of a local soccer stadium being built. Two local rugby clubs in Cork which play in Musgrave Park applied for a major new floodlighting programme three years ago. The aviation authority objected to the development on the very solid ground that the floodlighting could cause difficulties for pilots and result in confusion. The argument in regard to Baldonnel has not been plucked out of the air to make things awkward for the FAI.
The history of our airports' development has fluctuated according to what Government or Minister was in office. Some Ministers appear to be more enthusiastic than others in regard to the future of aviation and the development of airports. Since Cork Airport was built, great courtesy and hospitality have been extended to all Ministers who have visited or had an involvement in the airport. I recall only one incident in 1984 when airport workers actually booed a Minister at their annual dinner because he told them that as Cork was only the second largest city in the country, it was not entitled to funding for an airport extension. It is very difficult, in light of this, to stomach the criticism from Cork Fine Gael Deputies to the effect that the £60 million is not being provided quickly enough or that it is insufficient. When one examines the record, that seems very hypocritical. I am prepared to make allowances for financial hardships in the past but the former Minister's approach in 1984 proved very detrimental to the development of Cork Airport and airports generally. There did not seem to be a will to improve airports or further their development. By contrast, we now have a Minister who is happy to fight for funding for Cork Airport and others.
I can understand why artificial measures are being taken in regard to Shannon. However, the insistence that international travellers must fly to  two airports seems to be totally unrealistic. The common aviation area has been under discussion for a long time and I understand the hesitation to participate fully in this or to open up the airways. That is probably intended to protect Shannon. Shannon should be assisted but I do not believe the answer lies in the diversion of unwilling passengers to the airport. Perhaps if the airport were made more attractive, people would want to go there.
We should have transatlantic flights into Cork; assurances have been received from the airport manager, technical staff and sales people that that would be feasible. It is more than coincidental that attempts in this regard were shanghaied by other airports. That was possible because of the existence of an artificial promotional body for Shannon Airport for the past 30 years which was able to put its finger into the pie.
I join Deputy O'Flynn in calling on Aer Lingus to give Cork Airport a fair deal. At a time when fares are decreasing rapidly worldwide, it still costs £100 to get from Cork to Dublin. As Deputy O'Flynn stated, that is airway robbery and I ask Aer Lingus to review its position.
Mr. Jacob Mr. Jacob
Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): I will make a few points on behalf of the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, in response to the debate. I thank Members who have contributed to the debate and who have clearly put much time and effort into their contributions. However, while Deputies raised issues of concern to the aviation sector and to the people they represent, much of the discussion was outside the strict scope and purpose of the Bill, which is to provide for economic regulation in the area of airport charges and a number of other areas currently under the remit of the Department relating to market access and licensing procedures.
During the debate a broad range of issues was raised, including investment in airports, both State and regional, and specific issues relating to the future expansion of individual regional airports, privatisation of State owned companies, environmental issues, helicopter rescue services, pension schemes for Aer Rianta and Aer Lingus staff and air accident investigation. While these issues are relevant to a general debate on aviation, and while the Minister very much appreciates the level of interest which the House has shown in examining the issues relevant to the sector, they do not come within the very specific intentions of the Bill.
When the Bill was introduced in the House in June the Minister laid out clearly what was being proposed. In summary, it was explained that against the background of the liberalisation of the aviation market, the loss of duty free revenues, the very significant requirement for capital expenditure and the historic charging structure, the Government gave approval for the introduction of a fresh, independent approach to the issue of charges. The reasons for adding the remaining  regulatory functions – ground handling, air carrier licensing, etc. – to the regulator's brief were also outlined. While I do not wish to restate the wide range of issues covered in the introductory statement on Second Stage, I take the opportunity to touch on some of the larger issues raised during Second Stage.
As the House is aware, the Government proposals in relation to the Aer Lingus IPO are in the public domain, and the issues raised here, including pensions, are best left to the debate on the Aer Lingus Bill which will shortly be brought back to the House. Regarding industrial relations, there have been very positive developments in recent days in all but one of the various disputes which have arisen and progress is continuing to be made either at local level or under the auspices of the State's industrial relations machinery. In the dispute involving the catering staff, while the Labour Court recommendations have not found favour with the group, and a one day stoppage was organised for today, I hope, as we all hope, that a solution to the outstanding issues will be found in the context of the Labour Court's continued involvement.
Mr. Stagg Mr. Stagg
Mr. Stagg: Will the Minister of State give way to allow me ask a question? The Minister, during the debate, gave a commitment that the pensions issue would be resolved before she proceeded with the Aer Lingus Bill. Has that now changed?
Mr. Jacob Mr. Jacob
Mr. Jacob: I am not in a position to accurately respond to the Deputy on that question, but I will ensure he receives a response before the end of the day.
The House is aware that a report was commissioned some time ago to address the future options of Aer Rianta. My senior colleague has already indicated to the House that deliberations as to the best option have not yet reached finality, and that is still the position. However, in the interim the Bill provides the company with a statutory regulator who is being given a very comprehensive brief in relation to the needs and requirements of a modern airport authority.
As the House is aware, regional airports are private companies, so my Department's remit is somewhat constrained as to their operation. However, I remind the House that the support of regional airports is an express element of the programme for Government. The State has invested significantly in regional airports in recent years through the provision of marketing funds and capital grants, and more recently through the national development plan under which a total of £11 million has been allocated to the regions in which the airports are located. We are also dealing with the issue of air access to the regions through the public service obligations procedures which are being administered by the Department of Public Enterprise. The tenders which have been received on foot of the PSO process are being evaluated.
I thank the Deputies who contributed to the  debate on the Bill. No doubt there will be a more detailed engagement with them on Committee Stage.
Mr. Currie Mr. Currie
Mr. Currie: The Minister told us she would clear up the matter as to whether section 46 will be dropped or clearly stated to apply only to Gormanstown. I am here to hear the answer to that point and the commitment given by the Minister during Question Time and on Second Stage.
Mr. Jacob Mr. Jacob
Mr. Jacob: I am sure the Deputy will have plenty of opportunities for full interaction on Committee Stage, or has the procedure on Second Stage changed?
Mr. Currie Mr. Currie
Mr. Currie: This is disgraceful.
An Ceann Comhairle Séamus Pattison
An Ceann Comhairle: The sections will be taken individually on Committee Stage, and the section can be challenged at that time.
Question put and declared carried.
Dáil Éireann 526 Aviation Regulation Bill, 2000 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).