The government believes there will be a second daily flight to London Gatwick offered by the airline Easyjet when Flybe flights stop next year – even though Easyjet doesn’t mention another flight in its new timetable.
Easyjet last week released its new timetable, which showed only one flight to and from the island for the first half of next year. The rest of the year is not yet available.
Flybe’s Gatwick flights to and from Ronaldsway end in March.
Infrastructure Minister David Cretney MHK tried to allay concerns in the business community that air links with London would be compromised once Flybe ceased its daily flights in March.
He said he had received guarantees of a second flight from the operator.
Talks between the government and Easyjet are continuing to decide the precise timing of the extra flight.
‘There will definitely be an extra daily flight,’ he said. ‘But we have asked them to look again at the timing because we understand the importance for business people of getting there early in the day. We expect to have a precise time in the next couple of weeks.’
In the 2014 timetable, EasyJet offers a single daily flight from Ronaldsway to Gatwick, leaving at 6.05pm.
Currently, Flybe operates four flights a day to Gatwick. Those slots have been sold to Easyjet, which is under no obligation to continue the service to the island.
Easyjet bought all of Flybe’s Gatwick slots for £20m earlier in the year.
Jane Dellar, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce, said a reduction in the number of flights to London had been a source of ‘grave concern’ for the island’s business community. She said they had already been contacted about the issue by a number of their members.
‘The priority has to be to ensure there is air and sea access to the Isle of Man and London is a vital connection for the business community and we need to do everything we can to make sure the links are maintained.
‘It is an issue which affects the economic future of the island,’ she said.
Dick Clague, of the island’s Travelwatch group, said the key question was always what would happen in March next year.
‘I think everyone was waiting to see what Easyjet did, having bought the slots at Gatwick.
‘We were concerned from a Travelwatch point of view,’ he said.
A select committee chaired by Ramsey MHK Leonard Singer is currently hearing evidence on the Open Skies policy which allows operators to fly and land unrestricted from Ronaldsway.
A sitting in June heard Flybe had experienced a 10 per cent drop in passenger numbers to Gatwick. There was also a reduction in numbers travelling to other destinations such as Birmingham, Luton and Southampton, which corresponded closely with the passenger numbers carried by competitor Easyjet to London Gatwick.
Direct flights with Flybe from the Isle of Man to Southampton are to end in July next year and those to Gatwick finish in March.
Flights operated by British Airways to London City have been reduced from three per day to just one starting from this month. The airline blamed low passenger numbers. The government expects a second daily BA flight to London City from March, although this remains unconfirmed by BA.