DAA REPEATEDLY PLEADED not to be hit with fines because of lengthy queues at the airport saying that it could compromise security.
In correspondence with the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR), DAA – the body responsible for operating Dublin Airport – said their emphasis had to remain on safety, rather than waiting times.
And they said any over-emphasis on queuing times risked the potential for non-compliance with stringent EU rules on security.
In letters to CAR, the DAA wrote: “Our focus in security is to ensure that something does not get on an aircraft that shouldn’t, complying fully with all European and Irish regulations.
“While we do not want any passengers delayed coming through the screening process, our focus cannot prioritise this over passenger security and safety.”
Their managing director Vincent Harrison added: “The re-introduction of fines increases the risk of focus being leaned too heavily on queue times, resulting in potential non-compliance with regulations.”
The DAA appealed for a ‘force majeure’, saying that the impact of Covid-19 had been so severe that there were no further reasonable steps they could take to improve waiting times.
The correspondence with CAR runs from January to April in which the airport authority made their case monthly for fines not to be applied.
In every month, the Commission for Aviation Regulation agreed to their request saying it was clear Covid-19 continued to impact on operations.
By April, CAR told Dublin Airport that it was “crucial” that they take all steps available to them to comply with targets for security queues.
A letter from their Director of Markets and Consumer Policy Adrian Corcoran said: “We expect that there will be improvements in the queue times in the coming weeks as the effects of the many mitigation measures that have been put in place materialise.
While wait times at the airport did improve later in April and into May, chaos engulfed the airport last weekend when hundreds of passengers missed their flights.
The DAA were also told that queue times were now impacting Ireland’s international reputation and were summoned to meetings with government ministers.
The first of the four letters to CAR was sent in January when DAA said Covid-19 and “close contacts” had put significant pressure on staff resources.
They said absence levels had been up to 30% and that they faced a competitive market in trying to recruit additional staff.
In response, CAR said they agreed that a ‘force majeure’ event had taken place and that the impact was likely to be high due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
In February, DAA said Covid-19 now accounted for 65% of all staff absences, that up to 22% of people rostered to work security were out sick, and that this was 440% of expected rates of absence.
By March, DAA were still citing Covid-19 but said other factors including recruitment and delays in training new staff member were also causing issues.
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They said they were working on new roster models that would allow them to better scale resources up and down according to passenger demand.
April’s letter again asked for fines to be waived saying challenges now included a marked increase in the discovery of prohibited items during screening, refamiliarisation of the travelling public with security processing, higher than forecast passenger demands, as well as Covid-19.
They wrote: “We must not lose sight of the fact that our focus in security is to ensure that something does not get on an aircraft that shouldn’t, with the primary objective being to comply fully with all European and Irish security regulations.”
The correspondence had originally been withheld by the Commission for Aviation Regulation who said the letters were confidential and exempt from release.
However, it was released following a successful appeal under Freedom of Information legislation.
In a statement, CAR said: “Due to the high level of staff absences at Dublin Airport due to COVID-19 in January, February and March of this year, the Commission waived the potential penalty effect on the maximum level of per passenger airport charge.
“From the start of the summer season, the Commission has indicated to DAA that it is less likely to waive penalties unless extraordinary circumstances exist. We have yet to consider possible extenuating circumstances in relation to events since the start of the summer season.”
Asked to comment on the records, DAA did not respond.