The open skies policy should be abandoned to protect vital business and leisure routes for Isle of Man residents, according to the majority vote at a special debate held in Douglas last week.
The Open Skies Debate, sponsored by ILS Fiduciaries, in conjunction with JCC Isle of Man, proposed the motion that ““This house believes that the Isle of Man Government should abandon the open skies policy in order to protect vital business and leisure routes for the Isle of Man residents”.
The event, which was held at the Palace Hotel on Thursday 3rd April, was attended by more than 80 residents. There was considerable contribution from the floor and prior to the debate through The ILS Group’s discussion pages on LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/company/977472?trk=prof-0-ovw-curr_pos and its poll on The ILS Group Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-ILS-Group/430997436953606
An impressive line-up of speakers joined ILS Chief Executive Officer Chris Eaton, who chaired the debate.
The proposing team, which put forward the winning argument, were Terry Liddiard, the former CEO of Manx Airlines, and now spokesperson for Travelwatch Isle of Man and John Webster, Chairman of Webtech Limited, Continent 8 and Manx Business Connection. The opposing team were Chris Corlett, Chief Executive Officer of the Isle of Man Department of Economic Development and Chris Hall, Non-Executive Chairman of App55, Managing Director of Can Do Consulting Limited and Non-Executive Director of ManSat Limited.
Chris Eaton said: “The evening was a great success and we would like to thank our speakers for joining in the debate and putting forward their views so eloquently. Each year ILS stages a debate, in conjunction with JCC Isle of Man, which highlights a subject important to the Island and its community. The open skies policy is a topic which both the business community and residents have a view on, and this was clear from the audience participation. We look forward to staging the next ILS debate and bringing together the opinions of residents and key decision-makers in the Island.”
Chris Corlett said: “I know Chris Hall and I enjoyed the evening. Both sides made some good points. We are all seeking the same outcome: the best sustainable, reliable air links we can for the Isle of Man. I think the debate showed that there is no ‘silver bullet’ solution, so it is vital Government and the private sector continue to work together in the Island’s long-term interests.”
John Webster said: “Thanks to ILS and the JCC for hosting the event, which was very enjoyable. Feedback suggests that we met our immediate aim of providing an informative and entertaining evening and we must congratulate our opponents for the quality of their debating. Let’s hope the uncertainties surrounding the Isle of Man’s vital air links are resolved quickly, because without adequate services to London we all recognise that there will be a very significant loss of jobs and income. As a result of the evening, DED and MBC have agreed to work together to consider how best to proceed.”
JCC Chairman Owen Cutajar said: “I’m delighted with the success of the event. Open Skies is a policy that affects each and every one of us and it’s not often that one gets the opportunity to listen to industry heavyweights debating such an emotive subject. Our thanks go to ILS for making the event possible and particularly Chris Eaton, who chaired the debate with masterful elegance.”
Last year Tynwald accepted the recommendations of a committee set-up to examine the open skies policy, which allows airlines to compete for routes and passengers.
The committee concluded that the system is the best option to maintain regular air services – for now. But it did recommend a contingency plan be drawn-up by Government to enforce conditions on carriers, should it be needed in the future.
So after almost a year of deliberation, the economic policy review committee recommended no change. It said the open skies approach, allowing free access to routes to and from the Isle of Man, should be reviewed regularly but not dismantled.
A concern to protect essential routes to and from the UK lay at the heart of the inquiry, but after taking evidence from an array of witnesses including the airlines, the chamber of commerce and Travel Watch, the committee concluded tighter regulation is not the answer.
The report suggested changes to the charging system at Ronaldsway, to safeguard particular routes and timings and called on Government to consider forming a franchise-based airline using leased aircraft, which would allow it to buy landing slots elsewhere.