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Ireland’s Gateway

Dublin is not only the capital city of the Republic of Ireland but also a vibrant and engaging place in its own right. It also has a rather busy international airport which has faithfully served for decades. Home to Aer Lingus and Ryanair, like everywhere else it has had its highs and lows but in 2019 is growing fast.

Dublin (DUB) has always had a good spread of services across Europe and particularly the UK, but it has also been an important stepping stone to the USA. Unsurprising perhaps given that the links between the two countries are quite strong, and today they are stronger still.

Left: A pair of US Boeing 757s sit on the West Apron after bringing US Vice-President Mike Pence to Ireland.

Ireland is the only European country (and one of just six globally – the other five are Aruba; Freeport and Nassau in The Bahamas; Bermuda; Abu Dhabi, UAE and in Canada at Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg) that has United States pre-clearance facilities at its airports, the other being Shannon. Pre-inspection, a forerunner to preclearance, in Ireland commenced in 1986 and was updated in 2008 to a Preclearance Agreement. Dublin is thus the only capital city in Europe with US Preclearance facilities which means that passengers save time on arrival in the US by completing all the necessary immigration and customs checks prior to even stepping on board their aircraft before the journey across the Atlantic. The only queue a pre-cleared passenger encounters on arrival in the US is the taxi queue to their final destination.

One of Air Canada's Airbus A330s is pushed back for another departure across the Atlantic

This has proved its worth with regard the UK market and more than 10 million passengers travel between Dublin and Britain annually, accounting for one third of DUB’s overall passenger traffic. Every week there are over 1,200 flights between Dublin Airport and no less than 26 UK airports. The connectivity to these airports boosts DUB’s growing position as a key gateway between Europe and North America as British-based passengers are increasingly using the airport as a hub. Dublin also welcomes large numbers of continental European passengers who use it as a gateway to North America. DUB currently has nine airlines flying 464 flights per week to and from 18 destinations in the US and six destinations in Canada, which equates to an average of 66 flights daily to and from North America.

The US pre-clearance facilities provides a big advantage in developing more routes to the US, growing connecting traffic and is hugely important to DUB. In many cases it underpins the viability of a route which may not have succeeded if it wasn’t for the connecting traffic and it also builds resilience into passenger operations especially in the case of any downturn where the airport is not as reliant on its own home market.

No Passport Required

Left: The two towers. As a result of the new runway's construction, DUB has a new control tower as its predecessor next to it is not tall enough to see over the extended airfield

One of the less well-known aspects to travel between the UK and the Republic of Ireland is that Ireland is part of the Common Travel Area (CTA) between the two countries. The CTA also includes the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man - which are not part of the UK – and what this means is that no passport is required for a journey between them. Applied to the Channel Islands, this is something that has been well-known across the UK for decades as the regularity of holidaymakers going to Jersey and Guernsey has shown for years but, at least within the UK, is not quite as well appreciated as it might be when it comes to Ireland.

The CTA has been in existence since the 1920s and travel between the UK and Ireland has always thus been passport-free. Despite this however, as is now standard for air passengers, some form of photographic identification is required for flying anywhere. Even an entirely domestic flight within the UK will need a passenger to carry some kind of ID and it can vary between airlines. Ryanair for example usually insist on a passport even for UK domestic flights, British Airways can be a little more flexible and Aer Lingus will accept a bus pass. The two most common forms of photo identification however, are still passports and, for UK citizens, driving licences. Other forms of acceptable ID are work-related photo-ID cards, citizen cards and similar.

Even though the concept of not needing a passport is valid between the UK and Ireland, it pays to check with the airline you are travelling with and a conversation with officers of the Irish Immigration Service at DUB reveals that, although they will let a British passenger pass through, they also prefer people to have some form of proof with them that they are in fact, British citizens and are thus entitled to travel between the two countries without a passport. Ireland, like the UK, is not a member of the Schengen Agreement so passengers flying in from other EU countries still need a passport.

Above: The new runway is being built on the airport's northside (Image - DAA)

(Interestingly enough, although my visit was pre-arranged with both the airport’s media relations department and the Irish Immigration Service, I still had to demonstrate that I was a UK citizen at DUB in marked contrast to returning to London – using the ‘EU’ channel at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 saw no challenge at all; I was able to walk through without a UK Border Force officer in sight anywhere. KJ).

Agreements have already been made between the UK and Irish governments for the CTA to be maintained after the departure of the UK from the European Union and the EU has indicated that it is a matter for the two countries.

From the airport’s point of view no changes are anticipated despite the onset of Brexit. The UK is an important neighbour and trading partner to Ireland and while services will continue to fly between Dublin and the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the airport believes such an outcome will be a negative for Dublin Airport and the Irish economy as a whole.

Even though the UK market is still fairly robust, there has been modest growth over the past two years as it appears UK residents are travelling less frequently due to uncertainty about the future and currency fluctuations - weakness in sterling is already having an impact on business as it limits willingness of UK-based travellers to spend on travel.

Brexit is causing uncertainty not just in the UK and across Europe but otherwise DUB continues to grow and the most striking example is the construction of a new runway. Until recently, Dublin had two usable runways. When built originally there were three; the northern-most strip, 12/30 and arranged in an X-shape south of it, 17/03 and 24/06. The last one was withdrawn from use some considerable time ago and early expansion plans indicated two new parallel runways replacing 12/30.

Above: The original terminal and control tower, beyond which can be seen work on the new north runway

The New Runway

The land for both was set aside and it was the southernmost runway that was built first, and it remains the primary runway in use today but a parallel runway system has been part of Dublin Airport’s development plans since the late 1960s and the airport’s planners had the foresight to safeguard land around the airport as they could see the potential for air travel to grow substantially. Because of this Dublin Airport is almost unique for a capital city airport in that it has very little residential housing near the airport and under flight paths when compared to other international airports.

Planning permission for the new North Runway was submitted in December 2004. Approximately 700 objections were submitted to the Irish Planning Board and following an oral hearing lasting about three weeks planning permission was granted, subject to 31 conditions, in August 2007.

The project was then put on hold in December 2008 due to the economic downturn as passenger numbers fell by five million from 23.4m to 18.4m between 2009 and 2010.

Following a modest return to growth in 2011 and 2012 passenger traffic began to recover more quickly than anticipated and by 2015 passenger numbers had reached over 25 million.

With continued growth in passenger numbers forecasted, the airport’s operator, DAA, announced in April 2016 that it was proceeding with the North Runway project.

Passenger numbers have grown since then to 31.5 million in 2018. A turning of the sod ceremony on February 14 this year (2019) marked the official start of building the new runway and its construction is a key element of the Irish government’s National Aviation Policy.

Nevertheless some stringent conditions were attached to the granting of permission for the north runway, which has caused some concern to the DAA. Chief among these are: Condition 3(d) prohibits the use of North Runway for landings and take-offs between the hours of 23.00 and 07.00. Condition 5 states that, on completion of construction of the new runway, the average number of night-time aircraft movements at the airport shall not exceed 65 per night (between 23.00 and 07.00).

Above: Terminal 1's pier and rotunda

A statement on the airport’s website reads:

Dublin Airport’s based fleet comprises of two main airlines (c. 80% of airport traffic). These based airlines try to maximise the number of short-haul rotations by utilising first and last departure/arrival slots. The proposed restrictions impact significantly on two of the busiest hours at our airport, particularly for short-haul rotations - the 06.00-07.00 hour for departing flights and the 23.00-24.00 hour for arrivals.

Between 11pm and 7am, Dublin Airport currently handles c. 100 flights during the busy summer months. A reduction to 65 movements per night would result in a loss of up to 3m passengers and a reduction in capacity of c. 14% when North Runway commences operations.

The forgone economic impact suggests that, as a result of the restrictions, the Irish economy could be at the loss of an additional 17,400 jobs and €1.2 billion GDP by 2037.

Ensuring that we can facilitate arrivals and departures in the early morning and the late evening will maintain Ireland’s current reach and expand connectivity to new destinations, improving same-day travel options and offering passengers more choice. It will allow Ireland to connect to the world’s fastest growing markets, driving economic growth and boosting Irish exports.

DAA is seeking to change these two conditions to ensure that the airport can continue to cater for the anticipated demand and to facilitate Ireland’s current economic requirements and future growth. The process entails the submission of a planning application consisting of a Balanced Approach assessment and other environmental documentation as required under the statutory planning process. A new independent airport noise regulator for Dublin Airport has been recently appointed and the DAA will challenge those operating restrictions through that avenue. Although the airport has never intended to have more flights in the middle of the night, the proposed conditions limit the airport’s operation at two of the busiest times of the day – 6am-7am and 11pm to midnight.

Left: A growing number of airlines are now flying to DUB

New runways at airports have a tendency to arouse emotions and thinking back to the building of Tokyo’s Narita and the protests over that, and although not on the same scale Manchester also had robust demonstrations when it built a new runway, Heathrow’s third runway project has seen numerous barriers put in its way.

Dublin’s new runway project has seen opinion more restrained and the process much smoother Siobhán O’Donnell, Head of External Communications, said:

‘Clearly the construction of the runway and the issue of noise is an emotive one for our local communities. We have been engaging with those local communities and supporting local projects for many years before we submitted our planning application for our new runway, throughout the planning process and while the project was on hold. As a consequence, our community liaison team are well acquainted with many of our neighbours in the surrounding areas. Sharing information and having an open, transparent relationship is hugely important'.

Left: KLM were the first to arrive at DUB after the end of WW2 and have remained ever since.

'Our engagement increased significantly when we announced we were proceeding with North Runway. Since then we have had almost 2,000 meetings with either individuals or resident groups and thousands of emails, letters and hundreds of phone calls.

The vast majority of local residents acknowledge the economic importance of the airport in terms of job creation and connectivity and are not against the development of the airport. However, some residents located under the existing or proposed new runway flight paths would like more mitigation measures than those available at present.

There have been some small protests, but it should be noted that the North Runway has been in the plans since the 1960s and land had been acquired by the airport decades before we applied for planning permission for the project. The number of houses located close to the airport is quite small by European capital city standards due to the foresight of planners’.

O’Donnell continued: ‘We have engaged with our local communities every step of the way and shared information on many aspects of the project with them. There have been consultation processes which included feedback from our local communities and this was fed into the planning application process.

Apart from individual and group meetings with residents there are two formal meetings that take place during the year. The DAEWG (the Dublin Airport Environmental Working Group) comprising members of resident groups from local communities around the airport meets four times a year under the guidance of an independent chairperson. The terms of reference for this group is to discuss environmental matters relating to the airport and reports are given on air and water quality, aircraft noise complaints and sustainability issues.

The CLG (Community Liaison Group) meets six times per year. This group was formulated as part of the planning permission for North Runway and its membership is specific to the community of St. Margaret’s which is the closest community to Dublin Airport’.

Above: The former Pier C, now replaced by Terminal 2 (Mihal Orela, Wikimedia Commons)

Terminal Expansion

One point worth raising is that, although the links between the USA and Ireland are very long-standing, for decades all flights to and from Dublin were obliged to stop at Shannon when crossing the Atlantic. This had its roots in the days when aircraft did not have the range to fly non-stop and Shannon was the then designated point of entry. Irish government policy for many years maintained this stance so Aer Lingus’ Boeing 707s and later 747s departed Dublin – which still had short runways – with a light fuel load, meaning they could operate from the runways as they were.

Left: Aer Lingus Boeing 747 EI-ASA in May 1994 (Ardfern, Wikimedia Commons)

The policy undoubtedly put Aer Lingus at a disadvantage but over recent times the policy has been discontinued. Remarkably, the current main runway was not opened until 1989. Up to that point, the early types in use, like the Viscount and subsequently the earlier jets, could still use the runways as they were. The opening of the longer runway has enabled the Irish airline to operate more profitably as well as seeing movements grow overall and passenger numbers more than doubled. With those movements and the introduction of larger aircraft, the airport’s terminals have also had to grow.

The airport’s original terminal building still stands as it is designated as a Protected Structure, which means it is a protected structure under Irish planning regulations - the building is considered to be of special interest from an architectural and historical perspective. On its ramp side, some internal areas of the building are occasionally used for boarding gates, while the upper level is used by the Met Eireann (Irish weather forecasting) and the rest of the building houses DAA’s corporate head office.

Above: The original terminal

The architect of the building was Desmond FitzGerald, an elder brother of the former Taoiseach, Dr. Garret FitzGerald. The curved building with its tiered floors was designed to echo the lines of a great ocean liner and won many architectural awards for its design. Designed to cater for just 100,000 passengers a year, the first expansion saw a short pier built attached to the terminal’s southern end but the biggest indicator of Dublin’s growth was the opening of what is now Terminal 1 – costing £10 million, the building opened in June 1972.

Left: Terminal 1 departures

As a design of its time, the new terminal reflected the thinking of the era, with an oblong main building fronted by a short pier and a satellite around which aircraft parked. Remarkably, it is still in use today, although much altered and added to on both sides. Pier C was brought into use on T1’s southern end to provide additional gates and boarding lounges.

Pier C itself however has now gone, replaced by Terminal 2, a state-of-the-art, space-age looking structure that has brought DUB into the present era. Opened in November 2010, T2 has enabled the airport and its airlines to weather to economic downturn of the early 2000s and also helped Aer Lingus continue to grow.

Left: The contrast between the 1972-opened Terminal 1 and the futuristic curves of Terminal 2 could not be more marked.

The addition of Pier E to the north of the original building in October 2007 was to say the least, imaginative. With the preserved original terminal to the immediate north of T1, linking the new pier to T1 meant the erection of the ‘Skybridge’, which curves gracefully around the landside of the earlier terminal before meeting the pier itself. The drawback is that it is some distance from the main terminal. This is one factor that needs to be borne in mind when using DUB; although Aer Lingus are now based in the ultra-modern curves of T2, flights can depart from any gate, including those at T1. The connecting corridors can seem a little daunting but good signage does make it easy to use. Even so, a little extra time might be needed to reach one’s gate.

Above - Terminal 2

Above: Terminal 2

The Future

Dublin Airport is currently facilitating over 31.5 million passenger numbers (which is six times the population of the island of Ireland) and that number will grow again this year.

While the continued growth in passenger numbers is very welcome from the airport’s standpoint, it’s also good news for the Irish economy as it means more jobs in tourism and in trade as connectivity continues to expand.

The medium term plan is to grow DUB to a 40 million passenger airport. In doing that the airport’s goal is to provide a quality travel experience and the DAA is constantly investing both in facilities and in extra people at the airport to make sure it manages the growing passenger numbers and providing all passengers with the kind of experience they expect. DAA plan to invest €1.8 billion, the airport’s largest investment programme in its history to provide new facilities that are required to cope with growing demand over the next five years. This will be delivered with no increase in airport charges and at no cost to the Irish State, as the airport is not funded by the Exchequer.

Almost €1 billion of that investment will deliver much needed new capacity mainly on the airfield bringing new boarding gate areas and aircraft parking stands into use.

There is in place a master plan for future development and the west apron, on the other side of the cross runway, is where additional terminal facilities are likely to go. The airport wants to retain the runway however, so any further development will mean the building of an underpass to reach it. For now however, with the existing terminal infrastructure and the new runway, DUB will be able to handle its needs for some time to come.

Above: Emirates are a more recent airline to begin serving Dublin

Above: Terminal 2

More than 400 million passengers have travelled through DUB since the first flight took off in 1940 and Ireland’s international gateway airport can face the future with confidence.

© Kevan James 2019

All images © Kevan James unless otherwise stated.

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