Aer Lingus is maintaining services with the United States chiefly to ship thousands of tonnes of pharmaceuticals and other exports, the airline's CEO told the Oireachtas yesterday.
Sean Doyle was responding to claims from TDs at the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that airlines were 'super-spreaders' of the pandemic, particularly from the US, where Covid-19 is more rampant than in Europe.
Mr Doyle said Aer Lingus was operating only three US services connecting Dublin with Boston, Chicago and New York. He said Aer Lingus at this time last year was delivering about 4,200 passengers daily from the US - but that has fallen to barely 150.
Most coming here were on essential business travel, returning Irish citizens, or using Dublin only as a transit hub to other destinations. He said goods, not people, were sustaining Aer Lingus's core transatlantic services.
"What I would urge people to understand is the amount of freight or cargo on those flights. We are transporting thousands of tonnes of exports and imports - a lot of pharmaceuticals into and out of the island of Ireland. That is one of the main drivers of us maintaining the network."
He confirmed that some exports for the US were being trucked from the west of Ireland to London's Heathrow for transport on British Airways flights, because Aer Lingus had limited use of wide-body aircraft on US routes.
This includes shipments by Boston Scientific plants in Clonmel, Cork and Galway, which normally would access Boston's Logan Airport from Shannon - an airport with no current Aer Lingus services.
"We don't have the capacity in Dublin to meet that particular flow," Mr Doyle said. "The most important thing that we can do is provide a service to Boston Scientific to get their goods out of the country.
"A solution that works for them isn't available at the moment on Aer Lingus. It normally would be, because we would have a wide body (aircraft) in Boston. But the overall cargo demand and the overall passenger demand don't justify the deployment of that type of solution on that route. If demand came back, then we would have an 'island of Ireland' solution that would enable that freight. But at the minute we don't."
Mr Doyle said Aer Lingus hoped to identify with US and Irish authorities a regime of advance Covid-19 testing for passengers intending to fly here from US airports.
"The United States is significantly behind Europe in terms of the progression of the pandemic. But the US is important. FDI (foreign direct investment) is fundamental. The number of foreign nationals who work for US companies in Ireland - who will need to start traveling to and from their homes on work and business - will be a big issue. We need to find solutions to enable that flow safely."
He and Eddie Wilson, chief executive of Ryanair DAC, repeatedly told the committee that the Government was wrong to tell people to avoid flying. They asserted that travelling by air was no riskier than staying at home.
Both executives said Ireland should follow the policy adopted in the rest of the EU for the entire bloc to be 'greenlisted' as safe. Currently most of the EU - including the UK and Spain - is excluded from Ireland's list of countries that do not require a 14-day quarantine upon return.
"Germany have been open for travel since June the 19th," Mr Doyle said, "and at every stage of this crisis they've been a role model."