Thursday 15 November 2018

Preparing for take-off

daa chief executive, Kevin Toland puts the case for a new runway at Dublin Airport to John Manning and explains why the airport and Fingal needs it

daa chief executive Kevin Toland
daa chief executive Kevin Toland

The daa chief executive is hoping to convince neighbours of Dublin Airport of his view that two planning conditions imposed on its new €320 North Runway development that will restrict night flying in and out of the airport 'don't make any sense' and would be akin to building a new lane on the M50 to ease traffic congestion and then banning motorists from using it.

In an extensive interview with the Fingal Independent in the wake of the announcement that the runway project is being resurrected by the daa to cope with rapidly growing passenger numbers into and out of Dublin Airport, the authority's chief executive, Kevin Toland mounts a robust defence of the development and explains why he believes it is important to overturn the very two planning conditions that residents under the flight path are desperate to see stay in place.

Asked why the development of a new runway is important for the airport's future and the future of Fingal itself, Mr Toland said: 'There's a couple of key things. One, it is absolutely critical for the development of the country but also for the core access and the trade links in and out of the country for business, whether that's foreign direct investment in here, Irish businesses exporting, tourism, which is a core industry for us - as an island nation, we absolutely need the runway, all the way down to individuals being able to travel.

'I think, critically, the second key reason is that aviation, not just the airport but all the things around aviation, whether it's ourselves, the airlines, the companies who supply the airlines - all are massive contributors to the Irish economy. There's about 16,000 jobs directly associated with Dublin Airport and the airlines and the companies serving it but there's 100,000 jobs in the broader Irish economy, which is €7 billion of GDP or about 4% of our GDP, associated with aviation.

'When we get closer down to our home neighbourhood of Fingal and north Dublin, we are absolutely dependent on Fingal and north Dublin for our workforce and our supplies and for making this a successful airport and that translates I think, to about 20% of the employment and 20% of the economic value added. I suppose the advantage as we build and bring on the new runway, is there's going to be more jobs. There's about 1,200 jobs on average through the life of the construction project and then estimated, by 2023, there will be another 7,000 jobs in the economy.'

The daa chief executive said the development of the runway cannot wait any longer. He said: 'We need to do it now. Dublin Airport has been growing very, very quickly. We were the second-fastest growing airport in Europe last year. We are now in the premier league, one of twelve or thirteen in terms of size in airports in Europe. So, that's good news and that's growth and with growth comes the challenges of how you keep getting it and keep dealing with it and we are full at a number of key hours.

'From five in the morning to midnight, 80% of our runway slots are gone. If I took even, on the way out for departures, we are full at six in the morning, seven in the morning and four in the afternoon. For arrivals, we are full at eight, eleven and three o'clock. So for a number of our key juncture hours, we are full which means that it is very difficult to keep growing and developing and that is critical, not just for Fingal and north County Dublin and the airport but for the broader Irish economy.

'It's a really important, exciting, once-in-a-lifetime time for us here in the airport. The last runway came online in 1989. It really is a step change in a generation and while we have loads and loads of things that go on in the airport, in terms of developing it and adding more capacity and security and coping with more passengers and adding more gates here and there, you can't add a bit of a runway, you have to bring on a full one so that's why it's such a big deal and such an exciting deal and it's one that you have to weigh up very, very carefully when you do it.'

Two planning conditions, one that will ban night-flights on the new runway and the other which will reduce night-flights on the existing runway infrastructure at Dublin Airport, are being challenged by the daa but these same two conditions are considered crucial to be kept in place by residents in affected areas like St Margaret's, Portmarnock and parts of Swords. The daa chief executive has explained why he feels it's important to remove those conditions and said he hopes he can persuade the airport's neighbours of his case.

He explained: 'We had planning permission in 2007 and there were 31 conditions in total and two of those conditions are particularly problematic for the business. One condition means we can't use the new runway between 11 at night and seven in the morning and the second condition is that we are constrained in the number of flight we can have between 11 at night and 7 in the morning, to 65 (across the existing runways).

'Let me take the first one, as I said earlier, we are full at six in the morning and at seven in the morning for departures so it would be like being on the M50 and it's congested so you build a new lane and you're not allowed to drive on it. It just actually doesn't make any sense.

'The second one, right now we have no constraints on when we fly or how we fly. We obviously manage all of that very sensibly but we are not constrained by law and there's no basis or reason why we would be. This summer we have 99 flights flying between 11 o'clock at night and seven o'clock in the morning and they are really, really important for the Irish economy because 70% of those are with what we call, home-based aircraft.'

Secondly, the daa chief executive believes that one of the fastest growing and increasingly crucial aspects of its business on long-haul routes, depends on night-time flights.

Mr Toland also believes the business has fundamentally changed since those planning conditions were imposed on the runway. He explained: 'We think the business is fundamentally different and the economy and the needs are fundamentally different, compared to ten years ago. One, we will be about 18% busier this year than we were in 2006 and peak hour will be 35% busier so, we are an awful lot busier in that peak hour which goes to that first condition. Our long haul business is three times larger than it was a decade ago and the people who are using Dublin Airport to connect through is six times bigger.'

The aircraft flying in and out of the airport have also changed, according to the daa chief executive, who explained: 'At the same time, we think there is a logical reason why this (the runway development) should not be a bad thing. One, aircraft are less noisy - 95% of the planes that come in and out of Dublin Airport are what we call 'chapter four' which is the quietest type of aircraft.

'Secondly, the people working in Dublin Airport and the people working for the Government were very far-sighted a number of years ago when they preserved a lot of green space in the airport and in the land bank around the airport, so that they could set up to minimise the impact of the airport and make it as unobtrusive as could be possible.

'Thirdly, we have very, very strong noise management, abatement and control procedures in place. We work very closely with the air traffic control people and all the airlines. When aircraft fly into Dublin Airport, they fly in what are called 'environmental corridors' which are designed to put them in places to minimise the impact on the population.'

Asked what the options open to the daa are, in terms of challenging those conditions, Mr Toland said he wanted to convince and persuade the authorities and the airport's neighbours of the case first.

He said: 'We are working our way through that at the moment. One of the things we have been doing since the decision to proceed and the formal announcement of that a number of weeks ago, is talking to the various public bodies and also engaging with our neighbours. We are absolutely dependent on our neighbours, not just here right beside us but in the broader Fingal and north County Dublin area.

'We are getting out to them and explaining what we are doing, explaining why we are doing it, explaining the various measures and controls that in place and making the case with them to see will they support us as we move forward. So, we will be embarking on very detailed conversations and we will be listening very carefully to everybody's views and we will be trying to find a way through that everyone is best happy with.'

Asked if the runway could go ahead with those conditions still in place, he said: 'We believe that one, there is a very, very strong case that those conditions should be addressed. It's a very logical case, a very understandable case and we would be confident that we would be able to work with people to make that case successfully.

'Secondly, it's really important to say we are the key airport for the country and a key piece of the economic activity in the country. We had record tourist numbers last year which is one of the factors that benefited us, and how we support the continued ability of people to get in and out of the country is critically, critically important. The impact of those conditions, actually, if we didn't address them, for example, is that we would have to reduce our passenger numbers compared to this year.'

The airport chief said that Dublin Airport would then be in the position of having a new runway but being able to carry fewer passengers than today.

He said: 'That wouldn't be very good for anybody and would mean we wouldn't be able to support of the development of the country, wouldn't be able to support the development of tourism and wouldn't be able to underpin the routes that we have and wouldn't be able to add the additional jobs. So we think there's a very clear and sensible case for working together to address those conditions.'

Mr Toland said he 'wouldn't even countenance' failure, adding: 'We are planning to succeed and hoping to succeed and we have been working very, very hard with people to persuade them and to work with them and find a way to be successful as we have been. We have relied on the support of, and have had a long-standing relationship with our neighbours in the area and we have relied on their support. We need them for our workforce and we need them for the viability of the entire airport system, so we will be talking to them and explaining and discussing and trying to work through solutions to make sure we are able to do this together successfully as this airport and its community has grown successfully now for 75 years.'

Is he looking forward to presiding over this giant project for the airport? Mr Toland said: 'Absolutely. Sometimes you can be focussed on the things you have to work your way through, like these conditions but absolutely, it is a tremendously exciting business. We have had record numbers, we have got great customers and we've got great people and we've got really interesting plans to develop this as one of the best airports in the world and I am privileged to be here in a once-in-a-generation moment when we're saying that we are bringing on the next runway which is 26 years since the last one. So, I feel absolutely privileged and excited.'

Fingal Independent