15th December 2021
Being able to travel easily and reliably for work or leisure is a crucial element of life here and Guernsey Chamber’s industry groups constantly monitor the ‘offer’ and, more recently, the impact. James Ede-Golightly, Chamber Executive member and Transport Lead, explains more
Air travel was one of the sectors hardest hit in the past year and we, as Chamber, have accrued as much data and insight as possible around what might be the best course going forward. The resumption of air traffic commenced in July. During the month, passenger numbers recovered to around a third of the pre-level based on the comparable performances in 2018 and 2019.
Passengers exceeded 25,000 for the first time since March 2020. With services such as Guernsey – Jersey still impacted by severe restrictions throughout August, it is still a little early to make predictions about what the ‘new normal’ holds for airlinks.
In the meantime, an interesting thought experiment is to consider what might happen if the States of Guernsey decided to ‘rewild’ airlinks and leave the island’s routes and schedules for commercial operators to service as they see fit, without subsidies, route licensing or political direction via Aurigny and its ownership of slots at Gatwick. I’ll need, however, to assume the States still provide sufficient support to keep the airport open to commercial traffic despite its recurrent losses, even pre the pandemic.
In the pre-Covid years, around 80% of passenger traffic was concentrated on services to London airports (Gatwick/ Heathrow/City); Southampton; Jersey and Manchester. These are therefore natural routes to consider as candidates to survive without support, as they were the routes most in demand historically.
Servicing demand for these routes would require a willing commercial operator with a suitable fleet. Since Blue Islands already operates services to Jersey and Southampton without direct support or political direction, it is fair to assume that these would continue largely unaffected.
Identification of a commercial operator for Manchester is more complex. Flybe and Stobart could have been alternative operators for the Manchester service – however both have collapsed. Blue Islands or Loganair might offer services where they see sufficient demand, but otherwise the direct Manchester services could be replaced with indirect connections via Jersey, Southampton or London.
The complexity continues in considering the options for London services. If services were provided by an operator with a London based fleet, the only viable option is BA from London City – an option validated by the fact that this operator is currently providing twice weekly services to Guernsey. Within the constraint that this thought experiment has to be commercially viable, it wouldn’t be credible to expect a Heathrow or Gatwick based operator to buy a specific fleet for the Guernsey route, nor for them to allocate valuable peak slots to services the Guernsey route year-round.
Non-London based operators with suitable aircraft could service the London route, but would likely do so using middle of the day, off-peak schedule to accommodate the normal overnight location of the fleet as well as the accessibility of slots. The best case for London services would be a London City ‘business’ service supplemented by sporadic off-peak services into Gatwick. A significant proportion of the current Gatwick traffic could migrate to Southampton, where frequency might increase.
Without support and intervention, Jersey and Southampton services would likely prove most resilient and become the key hubs for Guernsey’s continuing air connectivity. The ability of Southampton to service this role is currently marginal given the scarcity of onward connections, but this will improve once the pending extension of its runway is complete.
Guernsey’s air links are constrained by the limited number of aircraft and therefore airlines able to operate commercial services. If the States of Guernsey does not intervene to fill the gap by providing the airline and aircraft (i.e. Aurigny) to meet the need, then the sustainable free-market solution would be to provide the shortest possible airbridge to connect Guernsey with the global route map in the most efficient manner: services to Jersey and Southampton would meet this need.
Irrespective of the demand from Guernsey residents, since convenient London schedules would only be possible at high opportunity cost for commercial operators to facilitate (largely given Guernsey’s short runway), the viability of such services could not be assured.
This ‘zero intervention’ approach would not be in the island’s best interests and is not advocated, but is a useful means of identifying areas of vulnerability and opportunities to improve services.