LIGHT touch regulation is needed to protect the island’s air services.
That was the call made in Tynwald by Speaker Steve Rodan who asked for the economic policy review committee to examine whether the Open Skies policy – which allow airlines free access to fly routes to and from Ronaldsway – still serves the best interests of the Isle of Man.
He also argued that it should be for the Department of Economic Development to detemine the island’s civil aviation policy.
Mr Rodan told Tynwald: ‘There is a possible price to be paid for the operation of such an Open Skies policy, which is clearly welcomed by many travellers, and that particular price could be the threat of such competition on established carriers and established routes and the long-term welfare of the island economically and socially in terms of the long-term network of services.’
He suggested the Open Skies approach can allow an airline to take on an established route for just a few busy lucrative months, take the profits off that busy route and leave the existing all-year-round carrier in severe difficulties.
Mr Rodan asked if system of ‘light touch’ regulation was needed to protect air services - with the regulator taking into account whether the route was currently ill served or would indeed benefit from competition.
He cited the example of easyJet which this month launched a new service to Gatwick in competition with Flybe, having previously brought competition to the Liverpool route.
But Infrastructure Minister David Cretney said the policy of unfettered competition had served the island well and resulted in a network of more than 20 routes being operated which he said was ‘remarkable’ given the size of the population.
Mr Cretney said the extra services launched by easyJet had been warmly welcomed by consumers although there had been concern voiced by some about the possible impact on existing air services.
Since easyJet began the Liverpool route, he said passenger traffic to the North West had actually increased by 8.4 per cent, helping to stabilise the overall decline in passenger numbers using Ronaldsway.
‘We will be watching carefully to see how the London market reacts to easyJet flying to Gatwick but currently links with the capital are buoyant.
‘Thus there has so far been no evidence that the development of low fares competition within these markets has had a detrimental effect on the provision of air services to these key regions,’ said the Minister.
He pointed out the numbe of schedule service destinations had grown from 14 to 21 in the 12 years of Open Skies. ‘There is no evidence in recent times that the Open Skies approach is harmful to the island’s route network - in fact quite the opposite.’
The House of Keys voted by 17 votes to five in favour of the inquiry but the Legislative Council voted against by three votes to five. Without the support of both branches of Tynwald, the motion failed to carry but Mr Rodan asked for a combined vote to be taken at next month’s Tynwald sitting.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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