Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in the Dáil on Thursday that he is "more optimistic than others" about air travel resuming this year. Health Minister Simon Harris previously said it looks "highly unlikely."

During his speech in the Dáil Éireann on Thursday, May 7, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "I am keen to see a return to international air travel as soon as feasible and safe.

“There is a lot of work to do but I am optimistic - I am more optimistic than others - that air travel for business and leisure will resume this year.

“Currently, there is important work being done by the European Commission and various aviation safety agencies, and I hope to give an update on this to the Dáil in weeks to come.”

You can watch Varadkar’s comments in the Dáil on May 7 here:

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This is not the first time Varadkar publicly stated his optimism about the return of Irish air travel. During a sitting of the Dáil on Thursday, April 30, Varadkar said: “I want to see Ryanair and Aer Lingus operate some time later in the summer, possibly August, and I would not like to be in a situation whereby we have to bail out airlines because they have failed."

However, on May 2, Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris offered what appears to be a contradictory outlook: “At the moment it is not looking good for foreign travel.

“The advice still remains that should not leave the island of Ireland.

“Being truthful to people it is looking highly unlikely this year.”

As per advice issued by Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on March 16, all people in Ireland are currently advised against non-essential overseas travel. Anyone is who does arrive into Ireland is required to fill out paperwork ahead of time and to self-isolate for two weeks.

Today the National Public Health Emergency Team met on Covid-19. It made some important recommendations including advising against non-essential travel overseas. See letter from @CMOIreland below: #COVID19 #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/8ZOAJq8GiR

— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) March 16, 2020

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Ireland's plan to ease travel restrictions

On May 1, the Irish government published its “roadmap,” a five-phase plan to gradually lift coronavirus restrictions and reopen Ireland. The progress from one phase to the next is dependent on the status of coronavirus in Ireland, and government officials have made clear that the roadmap is a fluid, living document that can be changed in response to public health advice.

As per the current roadmap, here is how travel restrictions will be gradually lifted in the coming months:

Phase 1 (To commence May 18): Social distancing and hygiene measures continue for public and private transport as passengers increase. Specific measures at ports and airports.

Phase 2: Numbers restricted and monitored. Social distancing and hygiene measures continue for public and private transport as passengers increase. Specific measures at ports and airports.

Phase 3:Travel restrictions on numbers travelling to and in major urban centres. Social distancing and hygiene measures continue for public and private transport as passengers increase. Specific measures at ports and airports.

Phase 4: Gradually decrease restrictions in major urban centres. Hotels etc. on a limited occupancy basis re-open. Bars remain closed. Social distancing and hygiene measures continue. Specific measures at ports and airports.

Phase 5: Resume tourist travel to offshore islands. Social distancing and hygiene measures continue for public and private transport as passengers increase. Specific measures at ports and airports.

Read More: “On May 18, Ireland begins to reopen” - Taoiseach outlines next phases

Irish airlines look ahead

On May 7, Irish airline RyanAir said in a statement: “As most EU countries have imposed flight bans or other restrictions, over 99% of Ryanair’s aircraft are grounded for the coming weeks. 

“We will comply with these restrictions at all times. We are working with EU Governments to try to keep some minimum flight links open for emergency reasons, even though the passenger loads on these flights is very low. 

“We are extending this limited schedule to Thurs 28 May.”

The statement added: “At this time, we expect scheduled flights to return sometime in July. We support the action taken by EU Governments to combat the virus, and we now hope there is a coordinated plan to lift travel restrictions when Europe is ready to return flying once COVID-19 is defeated, which will hopefully be sooner rather than later.”

Information on the Aer Lingus website on May 7 read: “We are temporarily reducing our schedule between North America and Ireland. Guests booked to travel on one of the impacted services will be contacted directly. We will continue to operate a reduced number of flights to / from Dublin and New York (JFK), Boston, and Chicago."

Willie Walsh, the Chief Executive for Aer Lingus parent company International Airlines Group, said in a statement on May 7: “We are planning for a meaningful return to service in July 2020 at the earliest, depending on the easing of lockdowns and travel restrictions around the world.

“We will adapt our operating procedures to ensure our customers and our people are properly protected in this new environment.

“We are working with the various regulatory bodies and are confident that changes in regulations will enable a safe and organised return to service. The industry will adapt to new requirements in the same way that it has adapted to developments in security requirements in the past.”

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