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Is Open Skies working?

Is Open Skies working?

Thursday 13 February 2020

Is Open Skies working?

A few years ago, Guernsey didn't have enough air links - everyone seemingly agreed with that - but now new routes appear to be taking off before being grounded, as quickly as they were launched.

This all started when Economic Development's Open Skies policy came into force, aiming to allow airlines to make decisions on where to fly, and to identify opportunities themselves, all while allowing competition to take place.

The policy was first proposed in June 2018, and just under a year later, in the run up to summer 2019, at least seven new destinations were being offered to the people of Guernsey.

Heathrow was the headliner of these destinations - but as we now know, that only lasted 12 months, and whether it will ever return is a big question mark, especially with the fate of Flybe/Virgin Connect being more than uncertain. 

Then, on Tuesday, Aurigny announced it was axing its new Jersey route, which wasn't even 12 months old yet - another route born of open skies that hardly lasted the year. 


Pictured: 2008 to 2018 saw a 12.5% drop in air passengers travelling through Guernsey. 2018 to 2020 saw that go back up by 6%. Is that maybe an indicator of Open Skies success? 


Pictured: Aurigny cut its Jersey route because it wasn't sustainable. 

These two routes were different beasts entirely. Heathrow was propped up by a States-subsidy, paid to Flybe (a private airline), and was reliant on it not having anything more profitable to use the landing slots for.

Jersey meanwhile was a move by Aurigny to try and up its direct competition with Blue Islands, which we now know was up for sale at the time, because it was already flying to the other Channel Island. Aurigny also made the same move with its new route to Southampton, where Blue Islands was again already flying - as far as we know though, that route is working out for the States-owned airline. 

Aurigny said itself that it was trying to drive the prices on the route down and offer a more reliable service than that that was already running. It is possible it was trying to push Blue Islands off the Jersey route and take that piece of the market for themselves. If that was the plan though - it clearly has not worked, because Blue Islands is still operating today. 

 blue islands Flybe

Pictured: Following Aurigny's Jersey announcement, Blue Islands said: "Blue Islands understands the challenges of operating in small island markets. It is essential that our islands’ air links are financially sustainable to maintain the high-frequency, year-round services which are critical to the wellbeing and livelihood of our communities."

Heathrow and Jersey are just two examples of things that have come out of Open Skies though. While talking about the collapse of Aurigny's Jersey route, Economic Development's Tourism frontrunner Deputy Joe Mooney said more attention needed to be given to the examples of success: new services established thanks to Open Skies that are actually sticking around.

These include flights with just one stop to Edinburgh, courtesy of Blue Islands' code share agreement with Flybe, its franchise partner, a London Southend route and a new route coming this summer flying to Newcastle. 

In addition, he said there were charter services planned which will have links to a total of 16 German airports this year. This will undoubtedly give the island the best links to Deutschland it has ever had.

Overall, Guernsey Airport has reported an increase in passenger movements of just over 6%, a relatively significant number.

If you look at statistics between 2008 and 2018, there was a 12.5% drop in people using the airport. So if you consider that that number has been recuperated by nearly 50% in the 1-2 years of Open Skies, it really puts things in to perspective. 

Deputy Joe Mooney

Pictured: Deputy Joe Mooney said one of the main benefits of deregulating air travel was to give the industry – not the States – the ability to work up routes where they saw an opportunity.

In his statement, Deputy Joe Mooney said: "The Committee remains entirely confident that the ability for airlines to attempt new routes, look for opportunities, and trial new markets is positive and right, even if some of those routes do not prove sustainable. The alternative is simply to never try to establish new routes.

"Ultimately the aim of deregulating is to give travellers more choice of destinations and better prices and overall, these aims are being achieved."

Another benefit was admitted by Aurigny in its statement announcing the axing of Jersey. The airline said it had hoped to offer more reliability and cheaper prices for the people of Guernsey to be able to travel to Jersey, and it had done just that. The reason the route collapsed was because those advantages had not turned into a larger market, it said. 

airport crime

Pictured: Guernsey Airport. 

The fact is though, while this is bad for Aurigny, the people have been given cheaper access to Jersey (for now at least, let's see if prices go back up). 

On the surface it is easy to criticise Open Skies. It launched with a new route to Heathrow - that is gone. It defibrillated Aurigny's route to Jersey - that is gone. Flights to Southend launched, were cancelled and are being relaunched. The Liverpool service has stopped though. And there is no sign of any new airlines looking to start flying here that we know of at the moment. But when you dig deeper, Guernsey now has people flying to Liverpool, Cornwall, Gronigen and Germany. In the summer people can fly direct to Wales, and will have a link to Newcastle. Bank holiday trips to Scotland's beautiful capital have never been easier. 

All of that from a relatively low effort policy decision from Economic Development. 

Without Open Skies, or at least the stimulus it provided to get the air travel industry to shake off the dust and get moving again, it is not clear whether any of this would have happened. The stats show that there is a bigger footfall in the airport, after all. 

Better (meaning more - in choice and frequency) and cheaper. That is the general consensus of islanders if you ask them what they want from Guernsey's air links. Looking back at its first two years, Open Skies seems to be making at least a little bit of progress toward that goal. 

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Posted by Robert Williams on
If we had the proposed tunnel to Jersey, there would only be need for one airport to serve the islands and this would result in a better range of connections overall.
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