Air links policy needs fixing

IT WAS only in October that an upbeat message was being sounded on the quasi-open skies approach.

Economic Development president Charles Parkinson was citing the number of routes and heralding it as a sign the new policy was working. Blue Islands was highlighting the growth in passenger numbers it has achieved.

There was a healthy uptick in numbers going through Guernsey Airport, including visitors who had never been here before. But the fragility of that position has now been exposed.

Blue Islands has pulled out of London Southend and Liverpool citing unsustainable market conditions. The huge subsidy paid by government to its franchise partner Flybe to run a Heathrow service cannot have helped its latest foray into the London market, just as it has eaten into States-owned Aurigny’s profits on Gatwick. Competition on Southampton is definitely good for flyers, but serious doubts linger at how it can be sustained.

Blue Islands has now spoken about the de-stabilising impact of deregulation – something it had warned about strongly when the quasi-open skies approach was being proposed in 2018.

It argued essentially that licensing safeguards were essential unless what was being offered by Guernsey shifted. So if industry and population grew, for example, or if the tourist sector developed with new hotels and attractions, none of which has happened.

The UK domestic air market is in a perilous state, the government bail-out of Flybe is the surest sign of that, and Guernsey’s is no different.

A runway extension would be folly if there was no market appetite to fly here, or it needed a big ongoing subsidy to keep an operator.

This States has not convinced on air links –whether that is the licensing regime, the Heathrow subsidy or the expectation and management of Aurigny.

It is vital for the economy and community that it does.

The results of the strategic review of air links cannot come soon enough, what has happened with Flybe reinforces the importance of local operators being successful.

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