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Proposed EU traffic light system for air travel 'is still a bit up in the air', says Tánaiste

Varadkar said he is worried about Cork and Shannon airports bouncing back from Covid.

Image: Sasko Lazarov

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said that he is concerned about Shannon and Cork airports bouncing back from Covid-19.

The business minister — who is currently restricting his movements after an official in his department tested positive for the virus — said that while many flight routes from Dublin will come back “quickly”, that might not be the case at Ireland’s smaller airports.

Speaking via Zoom call at an event organised by aviation maintenance company Dublin Aerospace to launch its new apprenticeship scheme, Varadkar said, “I am genuinely worried about it.”

“I think routes like Dublin to London Heathrow will come back very quickly and be fine. I would be worried about Shannon and Cork bouncing back and very worried about some of those routes that are genuinely of strategic importance to our island.”

Before the pandemic, the Tánaiste said, Ireland was “doing so well” by establishing “direct routes to places people would never have imagined before” like China and the Middle East.

“Those [routes] not coming back would be a real risk for us because our economy is so international and globalised and connected.”

Varadkar was supposed to attend the Dublin Aerospace event in-person this morning to announce the company’s 2020 apprenticeship programme, which has been expanded by 20% this year.

But the Tánaiste briefly had to leave the Zoom call after a fire alarm went off in his home, returning moments later.

“Nothing is going right at the moment,” he joked.

The Dublin Aerospace Aircraft Engineer Apprenticeship Program is a four-year, paid apprenticeship supported by Solas.

The firm also plans to hire another 29 apprentices this month, bringing its employee headcount to 350.

Travel restrictions

Airlines have taken aim at the government over its pandemic-related air travel restrictions in recent weeks.

Yesterday, Ryanair repeated its warning that it will close its bases at Cork and Shannon for the winter unless the Irish government adopts the EU traffic light system for international travel.

Last week, Michael O’Leary, group chief executive of the low-cost airline, said, “Ireland has been locked up like North Korea. We are the only EU country that has these EU restrictions in place.”

But speaking today, Varadkar said that his trips to Berlin and Brussels over the weekend had reassured him that Ireland is not an outlier when it comes to ill effects of the pandemic on air travel.

“You get a bit worried that if we have a stricter aviation policy to other countries, that could do a lot of damage. If we get perceived as being a country that is less welcoming to aviation and air travel, that could have longer term consequences,” he said.

But, Varadkar added, “it was not possible to get a direct flight from Brussels to Berlin, believe it or not. That’s how much connectivity has dropped”.

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Traffic light system

On the new EU traffic light system, the Minister for Business said that the proposal is still “a bit up in the air”.

He explained that the plan will come before the EU General Affairs plan next month for approval.

“That will be led by the foreign ministers, as opposed to health ministers,” Varadkar said.

“I think the various foreign ministers probably take a broader, more holistic view than health ministers who would take a more narrow view so that’s probably a positive in terms of getting a good outcome for aviation.”

However, he said that the “big challenge” is that all the virus numbers “are going in the wrong direction”.

Varadkar said that when EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen first put the idea out there, a ‘green light’ was going to be given to countries that had a virus “incidence of 25 per 100,000 over 14 days, and a positivity rate of less than 2%.

“At that time, the United Kingdom, for example, would have qualified; all of the Nordic countries would have.

“Based on metrics and the way things are heading, it might be just the Baltic States by next week and Cyprus that would qualify so that’s going to make it trickier.”

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