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Secretary General, Acting Chief of Staff, General Officer Commanding the Air Corps, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here in Casement Aerodrome on one of the most important occasions in the Air Corps’ calendar. I want first to offer my congratulations to the three young men who have just received their commissions. Today is a very special day for them and for their families. It is a day when they and their families are entitled to feel very proud of what they have achieved. A few moments ago these young officer pilots took an Oath to the Irish State and its people. They have chosen a career of service to their country - a career for which courage, commitment and professionalism will be their guiding light. This Oath distinguishes them from others and it requires others under their command to make the same commitment in the performance of their duty.

This ceremony marks the culmination of a period of commitment, dedication and, above all, hard work. These young men have been very busy indeed since they entered the 23rd Air Corps Cadet Class in September 2002. After a few days of familiarization here they headed to the Curragh where they joined cadets from the Army and the Naval Service to undertake seven months of military training as members of the 79th Cadet Class. This essential part of their military training involved instruction in such skills as basic field craft, map reading, weapons training and tactics. The training of our cadets is varied and wide ranging and is designed to equip these young people with the best and most modern foundation for their careers as leaders in one of the most respected professions. The Defence Forces of today make very challenging demands of all its members. In order to meet these demands our young officers must have the best possible preparation, training and education.

Having completed their training in the Curragh in April 2003, the Cadets were given an immediate opportunity to atone for any spiritual misdemeanors that they may have committed when they participated in the military pilgrimage to Lourdes. Then, following a week of contrition, penance, contemplation and self-denial, they returned to Casement where they commenced ground school. A small matter of 750 hours of lectures later, they were finally ready to commence the eagerly-awaited flight training phase of their training.

In the 12 months since then, these young men have undergone an intensive and demanding programme of flight training and are now qualified to fly the single-engined Marchetti and the twin-engined Beechcraft Super King aircraft. Earlier today they were presented with their military pilot “Wings” in official recognition of their qualification as pilots and today we formally bring their time as Air Corps cadets to a close with the award of their Officer Commissions.

The 23rd Air Corps Class has the distinction of being the final Air Corps Class to have trained on the Marchetti. Henceforth, Air Corps cadets will train on the new Pilatus PC 9M turbo prop trainer aircraft, eight of which were delivered earlier this year at a total overall cost of sixty million euro as part of the ongoing Defence Forces modernisation programme. These aircraft – and the new Pilatus simulator building currently under construction here - will support the training of our cadets to the very highest standard.

Today, as we look to the future, we also reflect on the continuation of a proud record of service to the nation by the Air Corps and its pilots. Already, 2004 has been a memorable year for the Air Corps. The new Learjet came into service in January, the first Pilatus trainers arrived in April, and I plan to place the contract for the new utility and light utility helicopters before the end of the year.

The Air Corps rose splendidly to the challenge of Ireland’s EU Presidency during the first half of this year and the greatly increased level of demands for the Ministerial Air Transport Service was successfully met. The Service was heavily used - with a total of 177 missions being performed during this period. This contrasts with the 158 missions that were flown during the whole of last year. Despite the heavy demands placed on the service during this exceptionally busy period, the level of service provided by the Air Corps was efficient and reliable. I was particularly pleased with the positive feedback that I received from the Taoiseach and my Ministerial colleagues regarding the MATS service. Once again, I would like to express my appreciation to every member the Air Corps for their contribution to the successful conduct of Ireland’s Presidency.

Tragically, in the middle of this busy period, the Air Corps was to lose one of its young pilots when, in early May, Second Lieutenant Raymond Heery died in an air accident in County Offaly. This sad event shocked us all greatly and reminded us forcefully once again of the risks that the members of our Defence Forces must face in the course of their careers.

Great progress has been made in modernising the Air Corps’ fleet, its equipment and infrastructure in recent years. I consider it essential to ensure that the investment level of recent years continues into the future. I am conscious of the need to invest in the future of the Air Corps – it must remain an organisation that can attract and retain people of the highest calibre, such as those being commissioned today.

As I have said, this is an important day in the lives of these three young men who stand before us.
Emmett, John and Oisin, as pilot officers of the Air Corps you have chosen a very challenging and demanding career – but one that is also very fulfilling and rewarding. I earnestly hope that you all will enjoy the many positive and enjoyable aspects of military life. Foremost amongst these are the comradeship, the challenges and the very high level of job satisfaction that comes from leading and serving others. The future is bright for the Air Corps and undoubtedly you will each have your part to play in its continuing success.

Finally, I’d like to complement all of your instructors from the Flying Training School without whose patience, dedication and experience this event could not have taken place. A word of thanks too to the band of the Western Brigade and the Air Corps Pipe Band for their musical contribution to this ceremony.

Congratulations to one and all and I hope that you enjoy the rest of the day.

Thank you very much.

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