A taskforce set up to provide advice around rebuilding the aviation industry has recommended that the Government urgently clarifies the process and milestones to be reached to ease the travel restrictions currently in place for non-essential air travel.
In it interim draft report, published by the Department of Transport, the Taskforce for Aviation Recovery says this urgent clarification should facilitate the easing of travel restrictions, ideally by 1 July.
The taskforce was set up by Minister for Transport Shane Ross and is chaired by businessman Chris Horn.
It said it notes the extensive recommendations provided on 11 June by the European Commission, which called for member states to lift all border restrictions by 15 June.
"Ireland is now significantly behind other member states in this regard, despite having equivalent or even better success in containing Covid-19," the taskforce said.
The advisory group is also calling for urgent clarification around the process and milestones to be reached in changing the 14-day recommended quarantine period, with a view to facilitating the lifting of the quarantine, ideally by 1 July.
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"A 14-day quarantine period makes non-essential and discretionary travel challenging, and inhibits business related travel, which is critical for the Irish economy," the report says.
"The taskforce notes that implementation of efficient test and trace regimes can provide effective alternatives to the current 14 day quarantine measure."
The body also wants the urgent adoption of a national Code of Practice for Safe Air Travel.
This would apply the Aviation Health Safety Protocols developed by the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in the context of Ireland, it says.
"A code, aligning with the ECDC and EASA protocols, needs to be urgently concluded and published," it says.
"This urgent conclusion and publication of the Code of Practice should then facilitate its implementation ideally by 1 July 2020."
The taskforce is also recommending the confirmation of the continuation of existing financial support measures, including in particular the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme to support employment.
"The reduction in aviation activity over the summer will make the traditional loss-making winter period in aviation particularly challenging," it predicts.
The taskforce has requested that the Government recognises the need to prioritise and implement the actions immediately to support the recovery of the aviation industry.
It says air transport plays an essential role in underpinning business and tourism in Ireland and in driving the wider national economic recovery from the shock of Covid-19.
"With Covid-19, the aviation sector is faced with new challenges, and is having to make business assessments on what route restorations are likely to have the least financial risk in the context of Covid-19," it says.
"If Ireland is to rebuild connectivity, effective ways to stimulate airline capacity, domestic and international routes will need to be explored."
It also says consumer demand needs to be stimulated and Ireland needs to be seen as open for business and tourism.
"As an island nation with an open economy, the Task Force calls on the Government to prioritise the recovery of this critical industry which enables large scale tourism, international business and exports," it says.
The group points out that Ireland has had a leadership position in global aviation and Irish-based enterprises manage over 60% of the entire global leasing market for aircraft and the sector supports €8.9bn of GDP as well as 140,000 jobs
"Much of the Irish achievement and leadership in aviation is now imperiled by the economic impact of Covid-19," it says.
"Deeper and lasting damage is imminent. Without clear visibility on Government intentions as regards economic coexistence with the virus, the national aviation industry is struggling to plan the management and retention of its assets, including workforce, aircraft, routes and physical infrastructures."
The taskforce says it will follow its interim report with a final report by early next month.
Aer Lingus has welcomed the publication of the interim report and has urged the Government to immediately implement the recommendations.
"The Covid-19 crisis is having a catastrophic effect on the aviation industry. Ireland's failure to take steps that other European Member States have already taken has exacerbated the crisis in Irish aviation," said Aer Lingus Chief Executive Sean Doyle.
"This is having a negative impact upon jobs within the industry and upon the industry's ability to recover.
"As an island economy with a huge reliance on connectivity and mobility, Ireland needs the urgent recommencement of operations in aviation.
"Air transport will be an early enabler of economic recovery, allowing people, goods and investment to flow back into the economy. This will be critical to the recovery of the Irish economy."
Daa, the company which operates Dublin and Cork airports, also welcomed the publication of the interim report from the Taskforce for Aviation Recovery.
"Tourism, trade and foreign direct investment are key elements of the Irish economy and over the medium-term, aviation will play a major role in helping the Irish economy to begin to recover from the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic," Daa Chief Executive Dalton Philips said.
The Irish Travel Agents Association also backed the report.
"We are now significantly behind other EU member states in lifting travel restrictions, despite positive metrics from the NPHET," ITAA CEO Pat Dawson stated.
"The travel sector has been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are concerned that we will be the last industry to get a restart date."
"This delay in lifting travel restrictions will further hurt our industry, as Irish customers will be forced to wait to book their holidays, which will in turn drastically slow the recovery of the Irish travel sector."
Ibec said reopening and encouraging international connectivity and mobility is crucial.
"The business community does not believe the continuation of such quarantine impositions at this point in the efforts to flatten the public health curve is either logical or implementable," said CEO Danny McCoy.
"Uncertainty around the timing and application of measures such as these only serve to compound the severe economic and social disruption experienced to date."
Ryanair said a great number of the 140,000 Irish jobs which rely on aviation may be lost forever if these measures are not adopted without delay.