A Government-appointed taskforce set up to consider ways to help the aviation sector recover has warned that the economy will not survive on the basis of a blanket policy of "essential travel" only.
The Taskforce for Aviation Recovery's final report says much of the country's key business and services sectors cannot survive indefinitely with "Zoom-like calls" and warns Ireland cannot function as a closed economy without permanent damage being done.
The body says thousands of high-skilled well-paid jobs and a level of global passenger and cargo connectivity critical to Ireland's economy and its economic recovery are now at risk.
It says that while Ireland's aviation sector entered the crisis from a position of reasonable strength, the stagnation of the industry now means otherwise viable companies across the industry and its supply chain here may be unable to trade their way through and risk of bankruptcies looms.
"Each day and passing week of confusion and stagnation in the Irish aviation sector increases the probability of job losses, long-term loss of connectivity, unbalanced regional development and economic damage (including a risk to foreign direct investment)," the report states.
"The standstill is deepening the eventual cost of national economic recovery."
Chaired by entrepreneur Chris Horn, the taskforce says it fully accepts the public health concerns related to re-opening the domestic economy and the added public health concern related to opening up our borders.
But it says the commercial future of the aviation sector here is highly dependent on people having the confidence to travel.
"It must be clear to passengers that air travel is reasonably safe if appropriate protocols are followed, and that it is likewise manageable for public health," the report states.
"Whilst the aviation industry is seeking to try to re-build business as quickly as possible, having to abandon routes or abort operations after just a short number of weeks of re-opened operations would be immensely costly and detrimental to both the recovery in the aviation sector and to other sectors reliant on aviation."
The document, which has been submitted to the Department of Transport, recommends that full transparency be given by Government on the metrics and data being used to decide the constitution of the planned "Green List" of countries that it will be permissible to travel from without the need to quarantine.
"The aviation industry should be amply forewarned on the evolution of the "Green List" and on any proposed updates, before they are finalised and periodically publicised," it states.
It also recommends that the Government develop a single, consistent, up to date and accurate source for all consumer and citizen advice relating to international travel.
The taskforce says that the aviation sector believes the economy as a whole would be strengthened if a well-funded, very highly efficient test, track and trace scheme at scale was made widely available nationwide and which could turn-around results quickly.
"Testing should be free, so that routine testing can become a cultural norm and provide public reassurance," it says.
The report also recommends the Government should ensure a National Code of Practice for Safe Air Travel be adopted and implemented by the Irish industry without any further delay.
In relation to protecting airports, the taskforce says that while airlines should continue to pay all airport and air navigation charges relating to Dublin, the Government should provide a rebate directly to the airlines of all these charges.
"This would represent State Aid, and it would have to be notified to the European Commission for approval in accordance with State Aid Rules," it states.
It also says approval should be sought from the EU for a stimulus package for Cork, Shannon, Ireland West, Kerry and Donegal airports to encourage the rebuilding of traffic.
"As part of this package, the State should directly provide the airports with a common fixed sum per passenger which will be used by the airports to stimulate traffic by reducing airport charges for airlines and restoring and growing passenger," it says.
A current waiver for "use-it or lose-it" rules around landing and take-off slots should be extended over the 2020/2021 winter season, it recommends, and it also calls for the Government to adopt the interim recommendations from the Tourism Taskforce.
To help airlines to survive, the group recommends a continuation of the Government's Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme until June next year and it says a liquidity initiative including loan guarantees, low interest credit lines is needed.
The Government should ensure a sizeable amount of funding is drawn down for the Irish aviation sector from the 'Next Generation EU' €750 billion fund, it states.
The report says the tourism and hospitality industry will starve on domestic 'staycations' alone.
"Domestic tourism in 2018 contributed about €3.3bn to the Irish economy, whilst foreign visitors in the same year contributed an estimated €8.7bn," it states.
The aviation sector here supports more than 140,000 jobs, almost 40,000 of which are direct employment by the sector.
The taskforce is made up of representatives of the aviation, tourism, Government and academic sectors and was appointed by the former Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, on June 10.
It was asked to report within four weeks.
Its final report was submitted earlier this week and today the taskforce met with the new ministers with responsibility for the sector, Eamon Ryan and Hildegarde Naughton.
"As the report acknowledges, there are difficult choices to be made, balancing public health with economic concerns," Minister Eamon Ryan said. "Aviation provides a large number of high value jobs, and it generates many more in the wider economy, and especially in the tourism sector. Protecting these jobs and people's livelihoods is a priority for the Government."
The Government is finalising plans to aid economic recovery, and the recommendations contained in the report will contribute to the overall response to the aviation crisis.
Shannon Group welcomed the publication of the report. "Rebuilding lost air connectivity at airports like Shannon will be vital in rebuilding our economy. The Taskforce report recognises this and their importance in supporting balanced regional development," said Mary Considine, Shannon Group CEO.
Aer Lingus also welcomed its publication but said Ireland has failed to act upon the European Commission's request to Member States to lift all border restrictions to allow free movement of people within the Union by June 15.
The company said Government policy therefore appears to be shifting towards a Covid-19 elimination strategy, rather than one of containment and economic co-existence with the virus.
The airline said, "The full economic consequences of such a shift in policy and of Ireland being 'Closed for Business’ would be profound and will need to be assessed and quantified."
While employers group Ibec said it supports the call for the easing of travel restrictions outlined in the report.
"The vagueness of the term 'essential' travel has the potential to undermine the Government’s ambition to reboot the economy," said CEO, Danny McCoy.
"As an island-economy, the success of our economic recovery will be shaped by our capacity to engage in international connectivity and mobility."
Niall MacCarthy, Managing Director of Cork Airport said the impact of Covid-19 has been really devastating on the world and Irish aviation sector not least Cork Airport.
"We now expect passenger numbers to decline by almost 2 million passengers in comparison to what we forecast for 2020," he said.
"In that context, Cork Airport strongly welcomes the Taskforce for Aviation Recovery Report published today and we look forward to engaging with the Department of Transport in its implementation."
"An appropriate financial support mechanism is now critical to support the recovery of Irish Aviation in tandem with the policy recommendations."