OPINION: What would happen if Alderney Airport runway was not extended?

Alderney Chamber of Commerce president Andrew Eggleston considers what would happen if Option C+ fails to win the approval of the States of Guernsey this week

ALDERNEY is on the brink. We have a broken airport with a runway that could fail completely at any moment and a dilapidated terminal that was only ever temporary when it was erected in 1968.

Now 38 deputies in Guernsey will decide our fate, possibly by the end of this week.

It’s a watershed moment for Alderney.

What those deputies should bear in mind is that their decision is about the whole Bailiwick, not just ‘the northern isle’ on its own.

Take away this opportunity for 21st century transport infrastructure and Alderney will die slowly, and the Bailiwick’s tax revenue will dwindle while healthcare costs increase.

Andrew Eggleston. (31494444)

Even voting for the bare minimum of replacing the short runway will do nothing to reduce the subsidy whereas an extended runway clearly would while creating the opportunities to grow our economy to the benefit of the Bailiwick.

Guernsey has already agreed £12m. to refurbish the existing runway, the terminal must be replaced if the airport is to function, and Alderney has pledged up to £3.5m. to the Option C+ project. Do the sums, as Deputies Ferbrache and Roffey have, and the Guernsey/Alderney exchequer need find only an additional £3-4m. – money that will pour back into the Bailiwick coffers as one of its constituent islands not only survives but thrives economically.

On the other side of the ledger, those same deputies have lodged an appealing amendment that would guarantee savings of at least £800,000 per annum compared to the current £2m. expenditure in subsidising Alderney’s lifeline air links.

So what would happen if Option C+ does not meet with approval at the States of Deliberation?

Air links

Firstly, there is little prospect of the current Public Service Obligation continuing after December 2025 as Aurigny has signalled its desire to have a single-aircraft fleet using ATR-72s. The Dorniers would be taken out of service and Aurigny could well withdraw from both lifeline routes.

It is unlikely there would be any scheduled service direct to the UK, and certainly not to a major airport similar to the proven and growing infrastructure of Southampton. We would remain an economic backwater while the other Channel Islands prosper without us.

If another airline stepped in with small inter-island aircraft, passengers from/to the UK would have to use a Guernsey hub. But that’s a big ‘IF’ – one start-up has expressed an interest using single-pilot aircraft, and there’s no reason to believe any such business could operate reliably without a considerable subsidy.

The medevac situation which, despite good intentions, remains seriously inadequate, putting lives at risk, as well as using a large proportion of the PSO subsidy.

We understand some deputies may seek to remove the subsidy on Alderney’s air services. To quote Deputies Ferbrache and Roffey, that ‘would be to condemn that island and its community to inevitable and rapid decline.

'We cannot believe that this is what the majority of States’ [deputies] would like to see’.

The Bailiwick economy

What would be the effect on the Bailiwick economy should Option C+ not be approved?

Firstly, Alderney’s economy would decline and place an ever-greater social burden and cost on Guernsey’s shoulders.

We could become a backwater with nothing to keep or attract young families, key workers and staff for local businesses.

What business would seek to invest in an island with minimal transport links while existing business could well decline and shrink alongside the population? This would mean in turn a declining tax-take and increased costs for the Bailiwick.

The short runway precludes many private and business aircraft types.

Tourism – the jewel in Alderney’s crown in peak seasons – would also subside. Even as things stand with the existing runway we don’t have enough seats to cope with demand at peak seasonal times. Larger aircraft would meet that demand, whereas nine-seaters with no Southampton link would deplete tourism further.

In addition to increased tourism from the UK, including the flexibility to increase seat capacity in peak periods such as Alderney Week, the proposal would also enhance the Visit Guernsey ‘island hopping’ theme and provide resilient services for multicentre holidays from the UK with start points in either Guernsey or Alderney.

It’s as well to remember that Alderney has historically contributed much to the Bailiwick in terms of generating new business and intends to continue in this vein. For example, over the last three years the independently-calculated benefit from the Alderney eGambling industry to the Bailiwick is around £32m. annually, and of this around £5m. is in respect of Alderney and £27m. in Guernsey, including £1.9m. in personal income tax and social security contributions.

In the 80s and 90s, Alderney made a bigger contribution to Guernsey than the transferred services cost, and we could get to that stage again with a bigger population, but that requires the improved transport links that Option C+ would provide.

Alderney can and has been innovative and needs this investment to continue to be so.

Is it affordable?

The proposal for an extended runway and airport infrastructure represents the best value for money in the mid- to long-term. The stability this project provides for Alderney’s air services will boost the island’s attractiveness for residency, economic activity and inward investment.

The availability of a large number of ‘bonus’ seats, thought to be in the region of 20,000 extra a year, and improved freight provision, would be a significant economic enabler for Alderney’s fragile economy and enhance growth in fiscal revenues for the Bailiwick through further business expansion. It would also make for easier connectivity with family members which today’s services at peak times are unable to provide.

A whopping 97% of those surveyed among our 140 Chamber of Commerce members were convinced this proposal is essential for the Bailiwick. Their comments are best summarised by this one: ‘It is critical that we future-proof now. Today’s reality is that we have a broken model which is hugely inadequate and unsustainable for both safety and economic needs. It will cost more per annum to maintain than the projected savings with investment over 20 years if we extend.’

Neither was there any doubt in the minds of our States of Alderney members when they voted unanimously to find a contribution of up to £3.5m. towards the project. We are prepared to put our money where our mouth is.

Is Option C+ affordable? I would turn that around and ask, can we afford not to?

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