Dublin Airport will get a planning waiver allowing it to open a Covid-19 testing centre for departing passengers, seen as key to accelerating the return of air travel.
The news came as the Government pledged an extra €48 million in aid to airports next year, bringing the total committed to them for 2021 to almost €80 million.
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan will confirm that Dublin Airport can get an exemption from planning laws that will allow it open a Covid-19 test centre without seeking permission from Fingal County Council, its local authority.
Mr Ryan will shortly sign a ministerial order needed for the planning waiver, paving the way for the airport to open the test centre. Cork and Shannon plan similar facilities.
The centre will be needed as EU countries begin requiring incoming passengers to show they have tested negative for the virus before travelling under a new system designed to cut the need for quarantines.
Dalton Philips, chief executive of State company DAA, responsible for Dublin and Cork airports, recently told politicians that the capital's gateway could have a test centre open "in days" if it got the planning waiver.
Without this waiver Mr Dalton warned that Dublin Airport would have to seek planning permission in the normal way, a process that could take months.
On Tuesday, Ministers announced €48.1 million in aid for aviation’s efforts to recover from the impact of Covid-19, bringing support for airports next year to a total of €79.4 million.
The Government had already pledged to give €31.3 million to five of the Republic’s six functioning airports in last month’s budget.
Mr Philips welcomed the aid. Just 7.4 million passengers in total travelled through Cork and Dublin airports in the first 10 months of this year, 76 per cent less than the 30.6 million people they handled during the same period in 2019.
Tuesday’s allocation includes €20 million in airport charges rebates for airlines using all six airports in an effort to revive traffic in and out of the Republic.
This will run from January to March next year if it gets State aid approval from the EU.
Ryanair "cautiously" welcomed the rebate, but argued that the scheme should run for three years, which the Government Task Force on Aviation Recovery recommended when it reported in July
Niall MacCarthy, managing director, Cork Airport, which will share a total of €32.1 million with Shannon, welcomed the extra support.
“Cork Airport is ordinarily the second busiest and best-connected airport in the State. However, the aviation sector has been extremely hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and our business is now less than one-twentieth of what it was last year.”
The Government earmarked €10 million in total for Cork and Shannon in the budget. They will get an extra €22.1 million.
Donegal, Kerry and Knock will get €6 million in total on top of €21.3 million already pledged to them under an annual scheme for regional airports.
Minister of State for International Transport Hildegarde Naughton acknowledged that 2020 had been a difficult year for aviation.
She added that between this year and next, the State will have spent more than €180 million supporting the industry. The figure includes wage and other supports paid to aviation businesses since Covid-19 first struck in March.
The department will invite the regional airports to apply for the funds, following which it will allocate the cash to them.