Like the entire aviation industry, the airline – owned by Guernsey taxpayers – has been buffeted by the turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic. Demand for travel is unlikely to recover for some time, global airline chiefs have warned. The result? A huge financial hit on the sector worldwide.
Aurigny has sought to mitigate its Covid-19-related losses by bringing in ‘useful revenue’ through initiatives such as the Guernsey-Isle of Man quarantine-free air bridge. It has provided charter flights for an F1 racing team, while continuing to operate to Southampton and Alderney.
More recently, the airline has faced calls to operate additional flights to help local students heading to the UK for university. It has responded by adding two return flights to Manchester in early September. It is designed to enable students to travel to universities in the north of the UK as well as allow islanders to see family and friends.
But the carrier has faced criticism from some quarters for not doing enough to help students. Others have queried the cost of such flights for a taxpayer-owned airline amid questions over how much demand there really is.
The airline has also published a provisional winter schedule. It is an increase on current service levels, but dependent on when and how travel restrictions are amended. Balancing such competing pressures of supporting the community and commerciality is a difficult challenge. It has also brought into sharp relief more fundamental questions.
Why do we own Aurigny and where do we want it to go next? Is it a commercial enterprise? So, does providing services for the Isle of Man to Gatwick, for example, make sense? From comments made by that island’s chief minister, it is an option under consideration.
Is Aurigny an economic enabler for the Bailiwick, but what does that mean financially? Throw into the mix, provision of lifeline services and it’s not an easy debate to have.
But it’s a discussion that we must have in the run-up to the general election with candidates setting out their positions with clarity.
The hope will be that the next Assembly can then provide a clear direction of travel for Aurigny that benefits the Bailiwick.