Air and Sea Connectivity

Speech I made saying we didn’t need a review into extending the runway, but for Committees to come together to look at air and sea connectivity.

Sir, before agreeing to second Amendment 1, I did point out to Deputy Roffey that there would undoubtedly be accusations of nimbyism given we both represented the South East. However, he was happy with me seconding as he knows, just like me that it had nothing to do with the impact on the local environment. It was disappointing to hear that argument being made quite frankly. Because the reason I was happy to second that amendment was nothing to do with the social and environmental impact.

It has nothing to do with the purchase and destruction of considerable agricultural land and around 10 properties, nothing to do with the closing or re-routing of  roads, nothing to do with the considerable land-filling to deal with the slope on the eastern approach,  nothing to do with possible flood protection measures required as a result of stream rerouting and nothing to do with the loss of biodiversity. But I have a sneaking feeling those aspects will become an issue should it progress.

Why I supported amendment 1 was because if the P&R Plan went unamended we are supporting the spending of a six figure sum before we have determined the problem we are trying to solve and how best to solve it. The phrase, ‘Cart before the horse’ springs to mind. 

Sir there was a time when I was very much in favour of developing the runway. It seemed like a good idea. The phrase much used is ‘Build it and they will come’. But the more I have studied the matter, the more obvious it has become to me that it really isn’t that simple. Build what? A runway 1700, 1850 or 2000m long – is that long enough and for when? Who is they? And why will building it make them come? Won’t they come anyway with the existing runway? Is there really a mass of airlines just chomping at the bit to come here but can’t because the runway isn’t long enough?

The more important question is, is it economic for airlines to come here whether or not there is a longer runway? We only have a population of 63k. I can’t imagine any other carrier coming here and not Jersey, the numbers don’t stack up. Remember Air Berlin did not stop Guernsey flights because of runway length, as they have retained their fleet of 20 Dash 8s, but because of severe financial losses and so have cut half of their 140 destinations that they were serving, including Jersey. 

The problem is that we have not determined what the problem is we are trying to solve. Or rather, what problems need to be solved and the priority that we should give to finding a solution for them.

We hear it’s frequency of flights, it’s the cost of flights, it is the destination of flights, it is the unreliability of sea links, it is the cost of sea links. 

Perhaps a longer runway may be a solution, but perhaps it is something else. That is why we should not commence a capital project to look at a runway but instead look at our connectivity and understand what problems they are all creating and then think strategically as to how we resolve them.

Now it is interesting to contrast the views of those who stood to become P&R President just over  a year ago on this very subject. 

Ferbrache: We have got to do it. We have got to protect Aurigny. We have got to protect our Gatwick routes. because if we do not the finance sector will not come to Guernsey. ‘How do we increase our businesses?’ we increase our businesses by having more routes. We can have bigger planes. We can have EasyJet or Ryanair – I am just plucking those names, again, from the air; they may not be interested, but they are interested in Jersey, so why shouldn’t they be interested to a lesser degree, in Guernsey? We can only do that if we have the runway. We know we are not going to be able to afford it for five or six years.

I’ll highlight just a couple of problems with this statement, linked to what I said earlier. How can we protect Aurigny at the same time as we want to bring in other airlines? Easyjet and Ryan air are interested in Jersey so why not Guernsey? Well aside from 40k population difference, the demographic is very different with Jersey having larger number from Scotland and Liverpool area that provide demand on those routes. And the only route likely to work for an airline coming here is a triangular one with Jersey. So perhaps stronger inter-island flights may make more sense? 

Deputy Ferbrache’s comments contrasted with Deputies St Pier and Parkinson, who basically said similar things. Deputy St Pier stated; ‘I think it is appropriate that we look at it, but we need to do it as part of a structured review, not as an isolated issue, and I suggest we do it in the context of the robustness of all our external links, including, of course, sea.’

Deputy Parkinson similarly advised; ‘The development of our air links needs to be considered in the context of a wider economic development plan. So, what business are we trying to attract? Where is it going to come from and what routes do we need to service that area of business? 

Inevitably this debate becomes one of whether or not we should have a runway when the question is far wider than that.

Building a runway may lead to more carriers, more flights, more people on them, at a very big cost. But the issue is there is no guarantee of new airlines, new routes or more passengers. Indeed there is a risk of less frequent flights and less routes.

And then what is long enough? If the argument is true, which it is not, that all airlines are moving to bigger and bigger aircraft, then clearly the life expectancy of the airport at Alderney is severely limited.

There are plenty of smaller aircraft out there being used day in and day out. And new ones being built by companies like Bombardier. Let’s also not forget that London City has only a 1,500m runway which has 38 flights an hour from destinations such as Milan, New York, Dublin, Rome, Amsterdam, Geneva. Oh and of course Guernsey.

Jersey Airport has historically always been much busier than Guernsey Airport – but it has two thirds more population and well over double the number of tourist beds.

Build it and they will come here. Is this what we want? Recently released figures gathered by consumer rights group TravelWatch, found just 1 in 5 easyJet flights to Gatwick from IOM departed on time, with the average delay being 45 minutes with a loss of weekend flights to and from the Island during the peak summer months due to aircraft being transferred to holiday routes, and reduced demand for business trips during the school holidays. On three days midweek during peak season, there will be just one flight to Gatwick, departing after 9pm.

Sir, I was amazed when amendment 1 came out how quickly we got responses from those such as GIBA, IOD and Chamber basically saying how dare we question the runway extension. We don’t want good governance we want a runway as we believe it will solve our problems, whatever they might be. I am pleased that over the last few weeks views have modified to one in which they believe we should look at our connectivity as a whole, something the CGI have said they support too.

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