Breen puts the case for compensation for Irish Airlines to Transport Minister Dempsey

April 20th, 2010 - Pat Breen

 Welcoming the re-opening of Irish Airspace following the disruption caused as a result of the Icelandic volcanic ash plume blowing across Europe, Fine Gael’s Deputy Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Clare T.D. Pat Breen said today that lessons must be learned and a coordinated EU emergency response must be in place, so that we are in a position to deal more effectively with a crisis of this magnitude should it occur again. Deputy Breen raised this matter with the Minister for Transport and Marine Noel Dempsey in Dail Eireann last evening during Private Notice Question time when he also questioned Minister Dempsey as to whether or not he would make representations at EU level for compensation for Irish Airlines which he said have lost millions of euro during the crisis.

 

“I welcome the re-opening of Irish Airspace following the disruption caused by this ash plume blowing across Europe. I am particularly happy to see operations back up and running at Shannon Airport. The absence of aircraft in the skies over County Clare last weekend is a start reminder to us all of the importance of the Airport. The fact that no planes were landing at Shannon Airport was a big body blow to the Tourism and Business Communities in the County, who were already struggling. Over the next few days, I hope that those Clare people who have been left stranded at Airports all over the world, will be accommodated and that they will finally be able to make it back home.”

 

“Before ever the Icelandic Volcanic Ash plume started to blow across Europe, the Airline and Aviation Sectors were in the midst of a recession. This latest set back could drive some airlines out of business. Aircraft make money in the air, not sitting on Tarmac’s and the airlines bottom lines are taking a huge hit. I raised this matter with the Minister for Transport and Marine Noel Dempsey in the Dail last night pointing out that there was a precedent for this following the 9/11 attacks on the United States.”

 

“I am disappointed that Minister  Demspey is not taking a proactive approach to this and instead is waiting for the EU to act, citing budgetary constraints as the main reason for his stance.”

 

“Lessons must be learned for the future and the Government must sit down with their EU Counterparts so that a coordinated emergency response is in place should a crisis of this magnitude occur again. Minister Demspey assured me in the Dail last evening that a formal meeting of EU Transport Ministers will take place and that whatever plans are necessary for the future will be put in place.”

 

SEE PRIVATE NOTICE QUESTION UNDERNEATH – Entire Debate of same attached for your information.

Private Notice Questions. 

 Air Space and Air Traffic.

I will raise different issues so we will not have repetition. Many airlines are speaking about compensation. Last night, the chief executive of British Airways, Willie Walsh, stated there was a precedent for this as it happened after the attacks of 11 September 2001 when the United States skies were closed. Will the Minister make representations at EU level for compensation, in particular for Irish airlines? Ireland is an island nation and is very much dependant on aviation, as has been seen in recent days. Aer Lingus stated it is running losses of €4 million a day although it has cash reserves of approximately €375 million. This has put huge strain on airlines. We do not know yet how much Ryanair is losing. Will a case be made at European level for compensation?

 

At their video-conference meeting on Monday did the Ministers put in place a contingency plan in the event of something similar happening whereby Ministers with responsibility for transport or Governments would meet aviation authorities to discuss such emergencies? This one has cost Europe much.

Deputy Noel Dempsey: If the EU decides to offer compensation to airlines we will make a very strong case for Irish airlines. However, at this point in time, with the budgetary situation we have, we do not anticipate we will be leading a charge to have States compensating airlines. We do not have the money to do so and we cannot do so. I saw the statement issued by the EU Commissioner, which was a bit careful. If the EU decides to provide a compensation package we will fight for our share of it. However, we do not anticipate being in a position to pay compensation directly to airlines because of our financial situation. I would be wary of compensation for an event such as this because it would tend to favour larger legacy airlines in Europe rather than ourselves. In the longer term it might prove to be more detrimental than help to Irish airlines.

 

As soon as the situation is resolved there will be a formal meeting of Ministers at which we will have a discussion and, having learned from this particular experience, put in place whatever plans are necessary for anything that might happen in the future.