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Written Answers. - Air Services.

Tuesday, 26 November 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 1

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 135. Mr. Wall Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall  asked the Minister for Transport Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan  the steps he is taking to foster expansion and competition on air routes in and out of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22493/02]

Minister for Transport (Mr. Brennan): Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan It is Government policy to encourage as wide a range as possible of reliable, regular and competitive air services to and from Ireland. Efficient and competitive networks of air links are vitally important for developing our trade and tourism sectors, particularly having regard to our island status and peripheral location.

My Department has taken a proactive stance over the years in the deregulation of the intra-European Union air transport market. Under the current regime, all Community air carriers are free to operate on any European Economic Area, EEA, route, based on their own commercial [186] judgment, subject to overall safety considerations and availability of slots. Outside the EEA, my Department encourages the development of new air services through the implementation of liberal regulatory arrangements with other states.

Regarding the airports at Dublin, Shannon and Cork, the policy is to focus on the planning and funding of adequate and cost effective airport infrastructure in line with the projected traffic demands. Each of these airports is a major driver of economic growth and development for their respective catchment areas, and indeed, for the country as a whole. At Dublin Airport, Aer Rianta is well advanced with a comprehensive master planning exercise which will enable the company to plan the development of the airport systematically over the medium to long term for both passenger and cargo handling.

A number of initiatives are currently being pursued under the Programme for Government with the aim of further boosting tourism and expansion on international air routes.

In the short term, and subject to planning permission, a new temporary pier to facilitate the rapid turnaround of aircraft will be provided by Aer Rianta by May 2003. The company recently secured planning permission from Fingal County Council for a new, permanent, two storey pier at Dublin Airport in due course. This permission is currently the subject of an appeal to An Bord Pleanála. I have indicated to Aer Rianta that no contractual or other irrevocable commitments should be made in relation to this permanent facility pending the outcome of the independent terminal issue which I am currently pursuing.

On this latter issue, my Department advertised in August of this year for expressions of interest from parties who would be interested in the concept of providing an independent or competing terminal at Dublin Airport. Submissions were received from 13 companies or consortia and yesterday I announced the composition of a small panel of experts chaired by Mr. Paddy Mullarkey, former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, to conduct a professional and independent assessment of these submissions.

The work of the panel, which I expect to be completed on 17 January, will assist me in progressing the commitment in the Programme for Government to examine proposals for a new independent terminal at the airport and to progress them if the evidence suggests that such a terminal will deliver significant benefits.

Significant investment has been made by Aer Rianta at Shannon Airport in recent years in developing facilities for passengers and cargo. With the completion of the terminal extension two years ago, Shannon now has capacity to handle up to 4.5 million passengers per annum. This compares with an expected throughput of about 2.3 million passengers at Shannon for this year.

It is recognised by Aer Rianta that Cork Airport needs significant investment as a result of [187] the growth in traffic through the airport in recent years and the company is well advanced with its plans for a major new capital investment programme in infrastructure and facilities. The main feature of this programme, estimated to cost €130 million, is a 25,000 sq. m. terminal building. Planning permission for this project was secured earlier this year and Aer Rianta is currently evaluating tenders for the works. The company expects that the work will take two years to complete and the aim would be to have the new terminal ready for Cork's year as European City of Culture in 2005. I have made it clear that this project will proceed, whatever the outcome of my current examination of options for greater autonomy for Cork Airport.

This latter initiative is also contained in the Programme for Government which provides that, as part of the process of continuing to transform Aer Rianta, the Government will ensure that Shannon and Cork Airports have greater autonomy and independence.

A debate has now been stimulated by me within the Shannon and Cork regions and at a national level on the best ownership structure for these two airports going forward. Indeed I have visited both Shannon and Cork to further stimulate this debate and to seek out the views of local interests. The issue of greater autonomy for Shannon and Cork is being considered solely in the context of continued State ownership of those airports.

There is a genuine sense of goodwill towards the airports in the two regions on the part of local tourism and business interests, and views may differ on the best way forward. However, I will listen carefully to the views of all interested parties before framing proposals to bring to Government.

The six regional airports also operate as important access gateways to the regions. My Department will continue the support which it provides for marketing, safety and security measures at the six regional airports. A sum of €1.8 million has been provided for this purpose in my Department's Vote for 2003. This provision is in addition to €20.6 million for next year to support the PSO regional air services and over €6 million for the implementation of the first round of projects at the regional airports under the NDP.

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