The number of passengers travelling to and from Ireland by air has been in decline for ten years. Is it time for a change in aviation policy?

The high cost of flying between Ireland and the UK is resulting in falling numbers of visitors to Ireland. There are now calls in Europe to open up the aviation market to independent competition.

According to Aer Rianta, the number of passengers flying to Irish airports reached a peak of just over two million in 1978 but since then there has been a steady decline of around five to six per cent per annum. Aer Rianta believes that if fares were reduced, traffic to Ireland would increase. 

The fall in the number of visitors to the country is of huge concern to Bord Fáilte. At present, around 80 per cent of visitors to Ireland arrive by sea and 20 per cent by air. Less than ten years ago, 40 per cent arrived by air. Cost is a factor but there are untapped markets in England, particularly in the south east.

Bord Fáilte aims to get people from the UK who have never been to Ireland to come for the first time. Travellers to the UK from around the world may also be an untapped market. Bord Fáilte believes lowering air fares will see access to new destinations opening up. 

Within Europe, there is political pressure for more competitive air transport. Increase the competition and the cost of fares will fall while the quality of service will improve.  However, the national airlines remain sceptical of competition but independent airlines insist that given the opportunity they will bring more services and passengers.

Whatever happens in the debate between governments, national carriers and the independent airlines, it will be interesting to see how the travelling public fares.

This episode of 'Public Account' was broadcast on 24 January 1984.