MANY parts of the Irish aviation industry won't survive unless Covid-19 testing for air passengers is introduced, TDs and Senators have been warned.
rish Aviation Authority (IAA) officials told the Oireachtas Transport Committee that testing would play a key role in taking the industry "off life support".
Paul Brandon the head of corporate affairs for the IAA - which oversees the sector as well as airport security and air traffic control - also raised concern that the new EU 'traffic light' system for travel has "not gone far enough".
He told TDs and Senators that the pandemic has "devastated" the aviation industry in Europe and that air traffic levels in Ireland are at those last seen in the late 1980s.
Mr Brandon pointed to predictions that aviation won't recover until 2024 or 2025.
He said that prior to the pandemic Ireland's aviation sector was the "envy of the world" adding that this emphasises its importance to the economy and "what we stand to lose at this time."
Mr Brandon said that in the absence of a vaccine there needs to be an "effective and harmonised" system of travel across Europe and that pre-departure testing should be implemented as soon as possible.
He welcomed the Government's intention to adopt the EU's traffic light system and said the plans for green, orange and red-listed countries are a "step in the right direction".
However, he added: "we do not believe that it has gone far enough however, nor unfortunately is it likely to achieve on its own, the levels of EU-wide coordination required to provide for sustainable return for aviation."
Mr Brandon said the traffic light system as currently designed brings no certainty for passengers making bookings.
This is because EU Member States can apply their own additional restrictions and are only required to provide 24 hours notice.
He said testing will be "an important piece of the jigsaw, a missing piece to allow for traffic to recommence."
Mr Brandon argued that pre-departure testing is required for orange or red countries.
He said it would "play a key role in taking the aviation industry and the thousands of jobs that supports off life support."
He said there has been some work on testing carried out by the Department of Transport, the airports and scientific experts.
And Mr Brandon warned: "if an urgent step like this [testing] is not taken soon, many parts of the Irish aviation industry will not survive."
The Committee also heard from Filip Cornelis, from the European Commission's Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport.
He conceded that the agreed traffic light system fell short of what was originally proposed by the Commission but it's a "first step" and "further work is needed".
He said the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) are working on developing a testing protocol for aviation. He said it would be guidance for Member States, not mandatory, but "it can definitely be used in addition to the traffic light system to allow that stability and clarity of rules and mutual recognition that also Mr Brandon correctly referred to."
Mr Cornelis agreed that passengers are lacking confidence "because of the ever-changing rules" and added: "often quarantine is imposed which defeats the purpose of most of the air travel."
It was confirmed this evening that Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan will attend the Transport Committee next week to face questions on airport testing.
Committee chairman Kieran O'Donnell said TDs and Senators want to discuss a recently published Hiqa report on rapid testing with Mr Holohan as well as the planned 'traffic light system" and pre-departure testing at airports.
Mr O'Donnell said it will be a "very opportune" time for Mr Holohan to appear and the committee hopes to use the meeting to "look at ways of bringing about pre-departure testing which would have the impact of both reducing risk to passengers and at the same time providing a lifeline for the aviation sector."