The Government and the aviation regulator were warned by the operator of Dublin Airport that it risked running out of cash for adequate security and cleaning services about eight months before its operations were paralysed by staff shortages last spring and early summer.
DAA, formally known as Dublin Airport Authority, wrote to the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) in October 2021 warning that the regulator’s failure to heed DAA’s calls for higher airport charges would lead to “serious implications for the overall passenger experience at the airport”.
“Passengers are likely to face increased queues in areas such as security screening ... as well as reduced levels of cleanliness in our terminals,” wrote former DAA chief executive Dalton Philips in the October 2021 letter to CAR’s top commissioner, Cathy Mannion.
It is understood that the 2021 warning letter was copied to several Government Ministers and State transport officials. DAA was subsequently excoriated publicly by Government politicians in the summer of 2022, when massive security queues led to thousands of passengers missing their flights.
DAA acknowledged at the time that it did not have enough security staff or cleaners, but argued it had had to make many security staff redundant during the pandemic to make ends meet.
The row between CAR and the DAA over whether the regulator sets charges at a sufficient level has rumbled on in recent weeks, following a decision by CAR the day before Christmas Eve to grant increases out to 2026, but at levels far below what the DAA argues is necessary to fund services.
In the October 2021 letter, Mr Philips, who has since left DAA to become chief executive of Greencore, accused the regulator of taking “no meaningful action” at the time to heed DAA’s calls for higher charges to fund services. He told Ms Mannion that the commission had been an “entirely absent force” during the pandemic. He also warned that if its “regulatory inertia” continued, DAA would “reserve the right to take any action necessary” to have its concerns addressed.
“To effectively serve its passengers, the airport must – at a very minimum – be able to afford to run its business. If it cannot do this, because of the commission’s inaction, this will have serious implications for the overall passenger experience at the airport,” wrote Mr Philips.
Months later, Dublin Airport’s security checks were overwhelmed while passengers complained of poor hygiene at the airport. The issues were mostly resolved when DAA hired more staff.
When asked to comment on the fact that it was warned months in advance about potential problems funding security and airport cleaning, and that those warnings subsequently came to pass, CAR responded to say it had “repeatedly assessed Dublin Airport’s financial position and [was] satisfied ... there was no financial impediment to [the airport] delivering all services at a high quality”.
DAA declined to comment on the letter, but said its “consistent position on airport charges is a matter of public record”.
“If charges at Dublin Airport remain substantially lower than our peers across Europe, that has inevitable and ongoing consequences for the passenger experience,” said the airport operator.
CAR’s latest pricing determination at Christmas set an €8.68 per passenger price cap for this year, with increases to €11.73 in 2026, on condition that DAA meets spending pledges. DAA had sought increases up to €14.58 in 2026. The airport operator responded to the new prices by saying its appeals for funding for sufficient staff had “fallen on deaf ears” at CAR.
Airlines such as Ryanair have criticised the charge increases, although other sources highlighted that passenger airfares have increased recently at a far higher rate than airport charges.