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Department of Foreign Affairs: The Programme for Government sets out the Government’s desire to position Ireland, in particular Shannon airport, as an international hub for the storage and distribution of emergency humanitarian supplies. At the present time, one of the key tools in Ireland’s response to humanitarian emergencies overseas is Irish Aid’s Rapid Response Initiative, one element of which involves the stockpiling of relief items for the immediate needs of crisis victims. Since the beginning of the year, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Jan O’Sullivan and officials from the Development Cooperation Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs (known externally as Irish Aid) have held a number of meetings with representatives of Shannon Airport and other interested parties to discuss the potential for the development of a humanitarian hub at Shannon. Following on from these initial conversations, it has been agreed that the Department should undertake a feasibility study to ascertain the viability and management cost of the ideas involved and ways in which these could realistically be taken forward. The purpose of this feasibility study is to provide an independent, evidence-based assessment of the viability and value for money of a potential global humanitarian hub at Shannon Airport, and to identify practical ways in which this might be realised. Currently emergency humanitarian supplies are held in the United Nations Humanitarian Relief Depot (UNHRD) network. This is currently the world’s most extensive system of humanitarian relief hubs, with locations in or close to regions prone to natural or other disasters. The study will chart the logistical and warehousing arrangements and system already in place, including that operated by the World Food Programme through its UN network as well as by Unicef at its main supply hub in Copenhagen. The UN humanitarian system manages the procurement, recording and distribution of Ireland’s and other donor humanitarian assets. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore had proposed the hub and said that the airport had allthe necessary infrastructure to facilitate a new centre which could be transported rapidly to a disaster zone after a global emergency.
British Airways museum: The British Airways museum at the airlines’ headquarters in London has re-opened its doors, as the Speedbird Centre, after an extensive redevelopment programme. The centre showcases the past, present and future of the airline and is open to staff, researchers and members of the public by appointment. Items on display reflect the rich history of the airline including the flight log from the very first scheduled international flight, which departed from London to Paris on August 25 1919, to uniforms spanning 90 years of aviation right up to the newly introduced cabin crew iPad application. The Speedbird Centre also showcases the airlines’ new World Traveller and World Traveller Plus cabins as well as the award winning Club World and First seats.
CAE: CAE the global leader in modelling, simulation and training for civil aviation and defence has won a contract with the Irish Air Corps to train pilots for the Gulfstream IV and Learjet 45 executive jets in use with the Ministerial Transport Squadron. CAE already provides helicopter training for CHC, the parent company of CHC Ireland which operates the helicopter search and rescue service for the Irish Coast Guard.
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport: Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar has welcomed the Government’s decision to scrap the decentralisation programme describing the “policy was flawed from the start”. He added that he was “overturning decentralisation proposals for my Department with immediate effect”: This means that headquarters of the Department will remain in Dublin but the Tourism and Sport Divisions, currently located in Killarney, will remain in situ. He outlined other changes to agencies under his remit including the Irish Aviation Authority confirming that its HQ will not move to Shannon, but the operations already in situ in Shannon will remain in place.
European Commission: On 1st December, European Commission announced a comprehensive package of measures to help increase the capacity of Europe's airports, reduce delays and improve the quality of services offered to passengers. The measures address the quality of services passengers and airlines receive on the ground before they take off and after they land (for example, baggage handling, check-in, refuelling), the transparency of decisions on airport noise, as well as the efficiency of the complex network of take-off and landing slots that make up every journey. The package consists of a policy summary document and three legislative measures, on slots, ground-handling and noise. On slots the Commission proposals introduce market based mechanisms for the trading of slots between airlines in a transparent way, as well as measures to ensure that existing capacity is used by airlines - by raising the threshold on the ‘use it or lose it rule’ from 80%-85%. On ground-handling measures will include: increasing, for key ground-handling services that are still currently restricted - baggage handling, ramp handling, refuelling and oil, freight and mail services - the minimum choice of ground-handlers available to airlines at large airports from two to three. Proposals to protect workers’ rights are being made so staff can transfer under existing conditions when a contract goes to a new provider. The proposals strengthen the role of airports as the "ground co-ordinator" with overall responsibility for the coordination of ground-handling services at an airport, a move welcomed by the DAA. On noise there are a number of proposals giving transparency in the setting of noise-related restrictions including an oversight role for the Commission with the final decision remaining with the Member States.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA): IATA has warned that the Eurozone crisis puts severe downside risk on the 2012 outlook as illustrated by the recently published OECD economic outlook. In a worst case scenario, should the Eurozone crisis evolve into a full-blown banking crises and European recession, IATA estimates that the global aviation industry could suffer losses exceeding $8 billion (€5.98 billion) in 2012. “The biggest risk facing airline profitability over the next year is the economic turmoil that would result from a failure of governments to resolve the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Such an outcome could lead to losses of over $8 billion(€5.98 billion) - the largest since the 2008 financial crisis,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO. European carriers are by far in the most challenging position. Higher passenger taxes and weak home market economies have limited profitability in Europe. The low profitability has been despite European airlines being one of the fastest growing regions in terms of traffic this year. Yields have suffered and the base of strong demand grows more fragile as the sovereign debt crisis escalates.
The Irish Coast Guard (IRCG): The Irish Coast Guard was involved in an international operation to recover a crewman who took ill on a French fishing vessel on 25th November. At 09.45 Belfast Coastguard received the report of a 50 year old man with abdominal pains from the fishing vessel Saint Gothard south east of Strangford Lough. The skipper had spoken to a doctor who had advised that the man should be taken to hospital as soon as possible. The Shannon based IRCG helicopter (R-116) was on a training exercise and was tasked by Dublin MRCC to undertake the medevac. R-116 initially returned to station for a rotors running refuel and then proceeded to the casualty. It quickly became apparent that the crew did not speak English and so the French Coastguard from Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Gris Nez agreed to translate. Using three-way communications, which included satellite telephones and coastguard equipment, Belfast Coastguard, the crew of R-116 and the Coastguard at Gris Nez managed to communicate with the vessel, explaining how to set-up a high-line transfer and the best direction and speed of the vessel for the winchman. Once on scene the casualty was airlifted on board in Gale force 8 winds and medically assessed by a paramedic. R-116 then routed to Daisy hill Hospital Newry, where the casualty was handed over to medical staff. The IRCG SAR helicopter services operate around the clock from Dublin, Shannon, Sligo and Waterford, flying some 2,700 hours per year. The number of missions has increased by 8% over the last four years and the number of persons assisted or saved by 33%.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA): The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has received a special award for its work in optimising airline routes to cut distances travelled by 2.2 million kilometres, saving 16 million litres of airline fuel per annum. This was one of the Sustainable Energy Awards, which rewards excellence in energy management by organisations of all sizes. It attracted 105 entries. The IAA's strategy is now being implemented by other air authorities, including the Maastricht Air Traffic Control Centre which controls traffic over Germany, Holland and the Benelux countries. 47,000 tonnes of carbon emissions have been saved as a direct result of the IAA's investment in systems and technology and the continuous optimisation of Irish airspace structure and routes over the past 12 months. Hosted by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and sponsored by ESB Electric Ireland, the eighth annual Awards saw all business sectors recognised for their efforts in reducing energy use and CO2 emissions. On 21st November, 45 graduates formally entered the world of aviation at an Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) graduation ceremony in Limerick. The 26 air traffic controllers and 19 radio officers will be based at Dublin or Shannon where their role is to safely control air traffic through Irish airspace.
Thomas Cook: Thomas Cook reached agreement with its bankers, including Barclays, HSBC, RBS and UniCredit, to provide it with new access to funding. They have agreed to provide a new £200 million (€234.12 million) facility until 30th April 2013. The new deal replaces a £100 million (€117.06 million) short-term credit agreement announced on 21st October 2011. Thomas Cook, which sought additional financing to weather the seasonal low period of cash will also undertake a strategic review. Thomas Cook has been hit hard by tough trading conditions, especially in the UK, where its core customer base of families with young children has been particularly affected by tough economic conditions. It was also hit by unrest in popular destinations such as Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
Tourism Ireland: The North South Ministerial Council Plenary Meeting in Armagh has appointed a new Board for Tourism Ireland that includes Aer Lingus Chief Executive Christoph Mueller. Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar proposed six members to the new Board with his counterpart in Northern Ireland, the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster MLA nominating the other six. Tourism Ireland has responsibility for the overseas marketing of the island of Ireland as a tourist destination. The other five Board members nominated by Minister Varadkar are: Jim Flannery, former chief executive of the Irish Hotels Federation and a former managing director of International Tourism Marketing Ltd; Shaun Quinn, the chief executive of Fáilte Ireland; John Healy, chairman of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation and director of Abbey Tours; restaurateur Elaine Murphy and Denis Cregan, chairman Kerry Airport. The new Board will serve for a four year period until December 2015.
UK air passenger duty (APD): Passengers on flights from the UK are already the most heavily taxed in the world thanks to the UK air passenger duty (APD) and the Treasury plans to collect almost twice as much in passenger taxes this year (£2.2/€2.58 billion) as all other European countries combined (£1.17/€1.37 billion), according to new research published by the Fair Tax on Flying alliance, a group of more than 30 travel organisations. In spite of a four-month-long consultation over APD, the only changes announced by the Government were vague commitment to look at the effects of APD on regional airports, the deferral of plans to widen this duty to include some private jets until April 2013 and confirmation that the tax has nothing to do with the environment it was all about income for the Treasury. The delay in including private jets has led to airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic accusing the Government of favouring private jet travellers over commercial airline passengers. A campaign by the biggest names in British aviation failed to achieve the abandonment of increases in APD, as the Treasury confirmed plans to push ahead with six years of tax rises. Under new rates announced on 6th December yesterday economy-class passengers flying no further than 2,000 miles will see their APD rise from £12 to £13 per passenger. Longer flights up to 4,000 miles will see an increase from £60 to £65, flights between 4,000 and 6,000 miles will rise from £75 to £81 and the tax on economy flights above 6,000 miles - such as trips to Australia - will rise from £85 to £92. The tax for premium class passengers will be double the economy rate.
UK Border Agency: The threatened pandemonium at Heathrow and other UK airports during the one-day strike by Border Agency staff did not happen. Some airlines cancelled flights, others waived change fees for rebooking, significantly lowering the number of arriving passengers and immigration authorities in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, conducted passport checks on passengers before they boarded UK-bound flights, enabling faster processing upon arrival at Heathrow and other airports. Temporary staff were also deployed with police and military personnel put on standby. In a move that could affect the way the agency operates, a group of Members of Parliament (MPs) has called for UK only passport lines. At the moment, British nationals returning to the UK use the same queue at passport control as other EU nationals as well as citizens of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Labour MP Kate Hoey has tabled an early day motion calling on ministers to ‘reintroduce’ dedicated lanes for UK passport holders at British ports of entry - which its supporters say were in place as recently as the 1980s. It urges MPs to ‘recognise the frustration and anger of many British citizens in having to wait in long queues at entry points on re-entering the country. Such a move could have profound effects for Irish citizens who do not require passports to enter the UK.
This article first appeared in the January 2012 Issue of FlyingInIreland Magazine