Aviation Industry Awards Keynote Address

28th May, 2015

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is with sadness that I have to start this evening by recalling the accident earlier this week in which two people, both experienced and keen aviators, tragically lost their lives.

To the families and friends of the victims Bryan Keane and Paul Smith I extend my deepest sympathies. The Air Accident Investigation Unit of my Department will thoroughly investigate the cause of this accident and will report in due course. But for now, our  thoughts must be with the victims’ families and friends.



For this awards ceremony, I am very  encouraged by the strong level of interest being shown from some of Ireland’s most successful and emerging aviation businesses.

Believe it or not, I have had more than a passing interest in the aviation sector myself lately, and this week in particular.

Indeed, the aviation sector has had something of an interest in me.

The calibre of the companies entering the awards, and those subsequently shortlisted, is superb and shows that we can look positively to the future of the sector. I wish to congratulate all of those shortlisted  and wish you all the best of luck this evening.

It may be a cliché but Ireland punches well above its weight in the aviation world, and has done so for many decades past.  We are rightly very proud of the pioneering and innovative role Irish aviators have historically played – and continue to play – in the development of the industry, both here in Ireland and abroad.

This pioneering spirit and pursuit of  innovation in the industry have, I believe, been the key contributors to the successes of the sector. It is wholly appropriate therefore that we should formally acknowledge this evening some of the key players involved.

Aviation remains a key driver of economic growth and job creation. I’m glad to say that, in line with continuing national economic recovery, the aviation sector in Ireland is also growing strongly.

Last year, over 25 million passengers used Ireland’s airports – up 7% on 2013 and total flights in Irish airspace grew by almost 3%.  This recovery in the industry is most welcome after a very challenging few years.


Aviation safety remains our number one priority. Ireland continues to be  recognised as having one of the best safety regulatory systems in the world.

The latest audit conducted by ICAO on the State in January 2015 places Ireland second in Europe and fourth in the world amongst major aviation world players.

Ireland also continues to provide safe and cost efficient Air Traffic Management and I applaud the sponsors  of tonight’s awards – the Irish Aviation Authority  -for safely and efficiently handling close to 1 million flights in 2014.


The continuing progress being made by Irish airlines is also noteworthy. There has been a significant uplift in transatlantic services, to such an extent that Dublin airport will be Europe’s sixth largest airport for transatlantic connectivity this summer,  superseded only by the main hubs across Europe.

I commend Aer Lingus for the development of these additional services to North America which are crucial for both business and tourism.

And speaking of Aer Lingus – as I am sure you have been!- Ireland has benefited greatly from the high levels of competition and connectivity currently provided in the market for air services in and out of the country and maintaining these benefits is a key consideration for the Government in relation to the future of the State’s shareholding in Aer Lingus.

It is very timely that I am here on tonight of all nights- I believe the decision made by the Dail, after a fulsome debate, was in the best interests of the Aer Lingus, the wider aviation sector, Aer Lingus employees, customers and the State.

It was a momentous decision- and tonight is a momentous night.

I would also like to take this opportunity to commend Ryanair, Ireland’s largest Irish AOC holder by a considerable distance, for signing a deal to purchase over 200 new aircraft.  This is one of the largest purchases ever by a European airline and demonstrates an admirable scale of ambition.

Ryanair is already one of the largest airlines in the world in terms of passenger numbers carried and remains on track to operate a fleet of over 520 aircraft and carry 160 million passengers in the next decade. By any yardstick, this is a truly remarkable growth trajectory in just 30 years.


The role of aviation in the development of our tourism industry is vital. Like so many other sectors, tourism was hit badly by the economic downturn but we have clearly turned the corner.

We have now seen four consecutive years of tourism growth, with overseas visits in 2014 a full 26% higher than in 2010.

Many of you will have seen the tourism figures published just yesterday –

Comparing the three-month period February 2015 – April 2015 with the period February 2014  – April 2014:

•           Overall trips to Ireland were up by 13.5% to 1,778,600 visits

•           North America was up by 20.2%;

•           Visits from Mainland Europe were up by 14.7%;

•           Visits from the rest of the world increased by 23.6%;

•           Great Britain registered an increase of 9.8% in visits.

The increases in connectivity and capacity from Great Britain, mainland Europe, North America and other long-haul source markets provide the foundation for Ireland’s strong performance as a tourism destination.

My Department’s new Tourism Policy Statement – People, Place and Policy: Growing Tourism to 2025 – recognises that airports are core elements of our tourism infrastructure.


I mentioned Dublin Airport’s performance earlier but it would be wrong to think that it’s all about one airport.

Regional airports have a key role too and my Department, recognising the role of regional airports in the development of the economy at  a national and local level, will continue to provide State aid to the four regional airports, as appropriate, under the 2015 – 2019 Regional Airports Programme.

We will do so in accordance with the 2014 EU Guidelines on State aid to airports and airlines.  I anticipate formal approval of that Programme by the EU Commission in the coming weeks.


Thankfully, many other sectors of our aviation industry are also continuing to drive forward, including our MRO sector, Flight Training schools, third-level aviation courses and the General Aviation sector.

Our leasing industry also continues to thrive and it’s no surprise to see some of its leading players featuring prominently in the shortlist. Ireland’s preeminent position in the aircraft leasing industry is doubtless the envy of many other countries.

It provides many important employment opportunities and the Government  remains very supportive of it.


I mentioned at the outset the historically significant contribution played by Irish aviators. It is a story worth telling and worth preserving.

I was very pleased therefore to hear of the establishment of the Irish Historic Flight Foundation. It is already being supported by the IAA, the Air Corps, a number of airlines such as Ryanair, Aer Lingus and Stobart as well as a team of willing volunteers.

This initiative will help preserve our aviation heritage, maintain key skills, educate the public, and foster industry co-operation.  I understand that it will also provide a purpose built state-of-the-art “Aviation Experience” as well as functioning as a unique facility for the housing of aircraft.

In just over a month, on the 30th of June, An Taoiseach will formally welcome the first flight of the initiative at a special event at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel. I am sure you will agree that this is a most worthwhile initiative and I encourage you all to get on board and to support it in any way that you can.


I would like to say a few words about our new National Civil Aviation Policy. Its publication has been slightly delayed but that does not diminish the Government’s commitment to its successful implementation. Much time has been spent on stakeholder consultation and the effort taken by so many in the submission of comments is greatly appreciated.

I expect to publish the new policy shortly and I am confident that it will be widely welcomed.

A key objective of the new policy will be to help ensure Ireland’s existing levels of connectivity are maintained and to encourage new routes into the future.

The Government is convinced that an open and competitive aviation sector is the best mechanism to meet the challenges inherent in the aviation industry and strongly supports therefore the maintenance of an open aviation market.

I am confident that this new Policy will be a valuable policy charter to guide the future development of the  aviation sector in Ireland.

I have spent all this week discussion aviation matters. Now I am amongst the experts and the practitioners- it is a fitting end to an historic week and I am very much looking forward to the evening.

I wish to thank the IAA for helping to facilitate this event,  I would also like to thank all of you for your commitment to ensuring a vibrant Irish air transport industry and I wish you a very pleasant and enjoyable evening.

Thank you.