Key issues in extending the airport runway
This week States members will once again consider whether or not to progress an extension to the island’s airport runway, or leave it run into the ‘long grass’. Andy Brown takes a look at the key issues
THE Economic Development Committee was tasked with considering whether an extension to the airport runway was appropriate for Guernsey.
It has commissioned a number of reports and then concluded that it believes it is not in the best position to decide on the future, and wants to pass the burden on to the States’ Trading Supervisory Board, while also knocking the project a good few years down the road.
That is not good enough for one member of Economic Development.
Former hotelier Simon Vermeulen, pictured, will go against his own committee in proposing an amendment to get on with the project, using the new technology EMAS to reduce the burden on the landscape and keep the extension within the current airport boundary.
‘An extended runway would future-proof our infrastructure, enable potential new air services, increase passenger numbers to Guernsey and create growth including benefitting Guernsey’s own airline Aurigny,’ he said.
Deputy John Dyke, who is seconding the proposal, said that Guernsey needed to remain competitive and should future-proof its essential infrastructure.
‘The EMAS option is a game changer in that it will cost substantially less than the option of extending the runway by traditional means and will enable all works to take place within the existing airport perimeter and without running into the areas at either end of the runway,’ he said.
‘Going forward, it will substantially improve the functionality of the airport by permitting Airbus A320 aircraft and equivalent narrow body jets to land and take off with a full payload. Guernsey needs the flexibility thereby offered to facilitate route development and economic progress.’
An EMAS or ‘arrester bed’ is similar in concept to a race circuit gravel trap, and is intended to stop an aircraft that has overshot a runway when there is an insufficient space for a standard safety area.
A bed of engineered materials is built of energy-absorbing materials such as lightweight, crushable concrete blocks which crumble under the weight of an aircraft, considerably slowing its progress.
The first EMAS system was installed at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York in 1996, after a tragic overrun a few years earlier.
EMAS systems have been incorporated into more than 100 airports worldwide and are especially common in the USA.
To date, there have been approximately 20 incidents where EMAS systems have safely stopped overrunning aircraft.
Swedish EMAS specialist company Runway Safe was commissioned to examine the technical options at Guernsey’s airport to maximise the length of a runway extension towards the east while keeping it within the airport’s boundary.
It concluded that through the installation of a 98m EMAS system at the eastern end of the runway, it would be possible to achieve a usable runway length of up to 1,623 metres, similar to Jersey’s current runway length.
RUNWAY extension analyses have said one would create significant implications for Aurigny’s sustainability.
The States purchased Aurigny in 2003 in order to provide security of access on the lifeline London Gatwick route, and the airline has sustained years of losses and a number of recapitalisations by the States.
Last year it carried 77% of passengers departing the Bailiwick, and came closer than ever in recent years to posting an operational profit. A paper profit was realised but mostly attributed to changes in accounting procedures.
York Aviation said that if a low-cost carrier entered the Guernsey market, it would require access to the Gatwick ‘anchor’ route and expect to take a 50% market share of the air travel market. This would displace some 330,000 of Aurigny’s passengers, resulting in £25m. in annual losses for Aurigny.
The report said that in such a scenario, it was reasonable to assume that the States would be unwilling to allow Aurigny to sustain this level of losses year-on-year. The airline would have to withdraw from the Gatwick route and refocus its business on UK regional routes, which would likely see fares increase.
Aurigny would also have to reduce its fleet size and halve its Bailiwick workforce. Consequently, Aurigny’s contribution to the local economy would shrink by around £6m. per year.
Low-cost airlines would have more staff off island which would lead to fewer early morning and evening flights.
If Aurigny give up Gatwick slots and a low-cost airline subsequently pulled out, this would pose a significant risk to the continuity of air services, at least in the short term.
Cost benefit analysis
Frontier Economics reported that the extension of Guernsey’s runway would enable new carriers to provide services to and from Guernsey and reduce average fares by around 39%. This could ultimately generate around 20,000 new annual visitors to Guernsey – a 7.1% increase on 2019 visitors – after an initial 12-year ‘ramping-up’ period.
These new visitors would generate increased direct spend for the tourism sector and wider economy. Frontier Economics estimated the positive business expansion effect alone at £48m.
They also identified social benefits for Guernsey residents, linked to access to healthcare services off-island, as well as access to sport and cultural activities and connections, both in Guernsey and off-island.
The cost and benefits to Guernsey were analysed over a 40-year period. The reports concluded that a runway extension using EMAS would cost £79m., with additional costs including reduced passenger fees, increased security and terminal expansion of £50m. Increased tax revenue which could be anticipated of £21m. would leave a net outlay of £108m.
The economic benefits to the island were estimated as an increase of visitor spending of £181m. and an expansion in business of £48m. The economic cost to Aurigny is estimated at £10m. and with a £2m. environmental impact factored in, the report estimated a net benefit of £217m.
The paper figures offer a net overall benefit of £109m. over 40 years, with the investment expected to break even in year 17.
The report concludes that an extended runway would provide the infrastructure that could enable lower average fares and increase the numbers of new visitors, generating increased direct spend for the local tourism sector and wider economy, as well as business growth, additional tax revenue and social benefits for Guernsey residents.
Using EMAS would keep the runway extension within the airport’s current boundary. This would ensure that the valley to the east of the runway would be preserved, together with the properties located in the valley, the Villiaze Road, the Route des Blicqs and the nearby cemetery.
But the low-cost carrier model would likely have implications for the airport’s finances, Aurigny’s sustainability, and the level of air passenger service available (in terms of service frequency, the length of working day off-island, and
potentially destination choice).
It is also felt that an extended runway is unlikely to attract new carriers without a significant shift in Guernsey’s air connectivity policy, particularly in relation to the London Gatwick route, and without significant investment in route development support.
Therefore, any decision to progress a runway extension would only make sense in the context of a very different strategy for Guernsey’s air connectivity.
The Economic Development Committee’s view, by majority, is that any decision to extend the runway at Guernsey Airport should be a commercial decision taken by the States’ Trading Supervisory Board.
Given that the next planned resurfacing of the runway at Guernsey Airport is due to take place in five to 10 years, Economic Development proposes that this moment, or the ongoing work on STSB’s ‘Airport Master Plan’, would provide the most relevant opportunities for a runway extension to be considered as a coherent overall investment decision.