Wednesday 20 May 2020
Aurigny Air Services - Flight Cancellations
Mr Bailiff, Members of the States,
I am grateful for the opportunity today to brief the Assembly in more detail on the announcement made last week by Aurigny on the cancellation of most of its flying schedules until the end of August. In doing so, I would also like to reassure Members of the States about Aurigny's readiness to start reinstating services when travel restrictions are lifted as part of the framework for exiting from lockdown, recognising the important role the airline plays as an economic enabler for the Island.
At the outset, I want to be very clear that the cancellations announced last week do not affect in any way the ongoing operation of the lifeline services that Aurigny has been operating from Guernsey to both Southampton and Alderney. Whilst demand may be supressed and passenger numbers are generally very low - for example, the average number of passengers booked on each of last week's Southampton flights was just under nineteen - I can assure the Assembly that these essential services will continue to operate and I would like to take this opportunity to commend all the Aurigny and Airport staff involved in their operation for the commitment they have shown to keeping these connections going in very challenging circumstances.
I shall turn now to the remainder of Aurigny's flying programme which was the subject of its announcement last week. After the Island first entered lockdown and in the absence of any other planning information, Aurigny's initial approach was to review its schedules one month ahead on a rolling basis. The downside of that approach was that it meant customers had no certainty about the status of their reservations until relatively late in the day and, in turn, this precluded them from re-organising their own travel plans. It also meant that passengers who no longer wished to travel due to the crisis had no means of automatically seeking a refund until their flight was cancelled.
However, the States has now published its framework for exiting from lockdown and for the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. As we all know, this is a six stage framework and we currently find ourselves having just entered phase 3. This framework is clear in stating that travel restrictions will remain in place, with anybody returning to the Bailiwick having to self-isolate on arrival for 14 days, until we reach Phase 6. It is only at that point that we can realistically expect passenger demand to start returning.
I recognise that we all hope that the indicative timetable that was included in the framework for progressing through the different phases can be compressed as more evidence emerges. The framework is also clear in stating that we are only likely to enter Phase 6 when there is a vaccine available or the Public Health risk assessment indicates that COVID-19 no longer poses a significant threat to the health and wellbeing of Islanders.
Given all the information set out in the framework, it is not unreasonable to now assume that restrictions on travel outside of the Bailiwick will not be lifted until September at the earliest. With that knowledge, Aurigny has done what it feels to be the right and honest thing by moving to cancel its schedules - excluding the lifeline links - until the end of August.
In reflecting on what will have been a difficult decision for the airline, I think we should remember two points.
Firstly, we are not cut off from the outside world. Passengers whose flights have been cancelled but who still need to travel for permitted essential reasons can continue to make use of the lifeline services that I have already mentioned, noting that Aurigny has the flexibility to adjust capacity on them should there be a spike in demand for any reason.
Secondly, as and when restrictions are lifted, demand for air travel is widely expected to return only gradually and over an extended period. Aurigny will have to tailor its flying schedules according to both demand at the time and the opening hours of the airports into which it operates, many of which remain severely curtailed. Whilst recognising that Aurigny will play an important part in supporting the Island's recovery plans, we should not expect to see an immediate return to the services it was offering just prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
Of course, I recognise the disappointment that will be felt by many as flights are cancelled. However, I believe the approach being taken by Aurigny is sensible and that it is better for the airline to be open and realistic and to do what it can to reduce the uncertainty its customers have been facing.
Demand for air travel to Guernsey and farther afield is going to be difficult to predict for some time. Whilst more than half of Aurigny's staff have been furloughed, they are on standby to return at very short notice and have been maintaining their training so they can take up their duties again with very little delay. As such, I would like to reassure the Assembly that, as a key economic enabler, Aurigny currently retains the operational flexibility to respond by re-instating or adding additional flights, routes and capacity in the event that we move through the phases of the exit strategy more quickly than expected or if demand bounces back sooner than anticipated.