Air travel shake-up bid to boost routes out of Ireland
AIRLINE passengers may soon enjoy more routes in and out of the country after the Government unveiled a new policy proposal that could hit Aer Lingus's business.
The draft report says allowing airlines to enjoy so-called "fifth freedom" rights to all Irish airports would increase choice for travellers to and from Ireland and the number of transit passengers using airports.
Fifth freedom rights allow airlines to pick up and drop off passengers while en route to other destinations.
"What we are here to do, is to do what's best for Ireland and for aviation in Ireland and certainly if non-EU airlines can come here and set up new routes and new connections for us we are going to welcome them."
But the move to a more liberal approach to these rights is expected to hit Aer Lingus's connection deals with Middle Eastern airlines.
Aer Lingus this week revealed that revenue gains last month had been wiped out by the threat of a strike on May 30.
Chief executive Christoph Mueller complained that no other Irish firm had conducted so many ballots or had so many disruptions due to labour disputes in the last five years.
The draft National Aviation Policy, launched by Mr Varadkar, repeats the Government's position that it is open to selling its 25pc stake in the airline.
The report says the policy may result in "challenges" for airlines, but concludes that they are likely to be short term and outweighed by the advantages to the country.
The draft policy aims to grow the aviation sector, which employs 26,000 people directly and 16,000 in support jobs, and is worth €4.1bn a year. It plans to do this by supporting new routes and services, improving airports and expanding aircraft leasing and finance.
At least 26 new routes into Ireland began over the last 12 months, and the draft policy aims to continue developing the sector over the next 20 years.
Mr Varadkar said he was developing the policy to ensure the sector achieves its potential.
"Aviation is about much more than just airports and airlines," he said. "We want to remove any remaining barriers to growth and competition."
Submissions on the draft policy can be made by the end of July, before the final report is published.