Thursday, 1 April 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
5. Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Defence the recent meetings, if any, he has had with private consortia to discuss the use of facilities at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9400/99]
Mr. M. Smith: A number of approaches have been made in recent months by private concerns regarding the possible use of facilities at Baldonnel Aerodrome. My concern, in examining these proposals, would be to protect the military aviation interests at the aerodrome. The question of extending usage of these facilities for hire or reward requires careful consideration as it may have implications regarding licensing of the facility for commercial use. The greater utilisation of this underused resource could have benefits for both military and civil aviation in Ireland.
Mr. Timmins: Will the Minister agree that if the Baldonnel Aerodrome were opened up to another airline there would be many benefits not only for the Air Corps vis-á-vis investment but for people from the south-east who would have access to an airport and thus alleviate difficulties at Dublin Airport?
Mr. M. Smith: Baldonnel is a fairly important national resource. It has the capacity to do more. As Minister for Defence, my primary responsibility is to look after the interests of the Air Corps and to enhance and improve the infrastructure and facilities there. If we were in a position to deal successfully with the proposals put forward, the aircraft would have to be improved in a much shorter timescale. If agreement could be reached, legislative changes would be required because the Aviation Authority Act does not cover military aerodromes and discussions would have to take place with the Department of Public Enterprise, given the opposition in different circles to the use Baldonnel Aerodrome on a more commercial basis. The people we have met recently are private concerns but the broader question of the more commercial use is entwined. No one decision could be taken without the other. I am in favour of opening up a debate on the more realistic use of that resource in view of the benefits that would accrue to both sides and particularly because of the demand for resources to improve the aircraft there in the next nine or ten years. I cannot depend on going to the taxpayer for all the resources. If there is any other way in which I can accelerate improvements to the aircraft I want to open up the possibility of doing that in the interests of the Air Corps.
Mr. M. Smith: There is a view that the infrastructure at Dublin Airport is capable of coping with the expected growth in travel to Ireland and enormous investment has been made there. If traffic were directed away from Dublin Airport by this exercise it would not be as important a growth facility as it otherwise could be. These are questions that have to be debated. Let us debate them openly and see what type of exercises can be undertaken, with whom we can negotiate and the legislative change which would be necessary to free up that system.
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