The October figures for the Isle of Man Airport again showed a decrease in passenger numbers, albeit a reduced deficit compared with the previous four months. Around 61,800 passengers passed through the terminal in October, 1,300 fewer than in October 2011, a decrease of 2%. The latest monthly figures underlined a worrying trend where, decreases have been seen for each of the last seven months, with over 13,300 fewer passengers using the Airport compared with April to October 2011.
The October figures were particularly disappointing as the London market overall responded positively with some 3,750 more passengers flying between the Island and the Capital, an increase of 22% stimulated by the inauguration of the easyJet service to Gatwick, continued improved performance of the BA London City route and the new daily Manx2.com service to London (Oxford). This was overshadowed by a substantial fall in air travellers between the Island and North West England, almost 2,600 fewer than in October 2011, and the absence of the Southampton route which generated 1,360 passengers in October last year. Most other routes also experienced shortfalls with Belfast, Edinburgh, Jersey, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle all experiencing double digit percentage decreases.
As Ann Reynolds, Airport Director explained, the weather was again responsible for the cancellation of a number of flights due to fog in the UK, but does not detract from the continued poor response of the Island’s air travel market, fuelled by the ‘double dip’ recession affecting UK domestic air travel.
'We may have lost around 500 to 800 passengers as a result of flight cancellations during the month, but in all honestly, we were expecting a small increase of some 1.5%,'
'Whereas a 2% decrease is not dramatic, it is the continued trend of falling short of traffic expectation that is of concern. In October, even taking into account the reduction in numbers due to the weather, we were about 2.6% short of expectation. This really reflects the massive impact that the UK economy is having upon domestic air services in general and the UK/IOM market in particular.'
'Our concern is the quite sudden dip in the North West air travel market,'
'The last three months has seen a decrease in NW air passenger numbers after two and a half years of consistent growth. Moreover, the last two months have produced a fall in passengers for all three of the North West routes – Liverpool, Manchester and Blackpool. As this market is our strongest, it is an important indicator – and driver – of overall airport performance'.
It is also interesting to note that the total number of airport passengers each month during 2012 has increasingly shown a decline since April this year, the month that the Airport Passenger Duty (APD) at UK airports increased by 8%. The Isle of Man decided not to increase APD in line with the UK. Manx2.com has indicated that the additional burden of the UK APD tax on their flights has been a key fact in the decision to suspend their Oxford and Leeds services from January.
In contrast, some routes have shown improvement, with passenger numbers on the Aer Lingus Dublin service increasing by 4.2%, Loganair’s Glasgow by 5.6%, the BA London City by almost 13% and the combination of Flybe and easyJet on Gatwick generating a massive 32% increase with 3,500 additional passengers. In addition, the new Oxford and summer Norwich services together added 600 additional passengers to the total.
Departmental Member for Ports, David Callister MLC is also concerned about the current decline in passengers.
'Whilst the continuing tough domestic and European air transport market conditions prevail, and the impact of UK APD increases continue to affect our traffic, it will be challenging to achieve sustainable passenger growth,'
'We are very disappointed with the news of the suspension of the Manx2.com Leeds and Oxford routes from January and, we will work with Manx2 to see if it is possible to restore the routes in summer 2012. However, the combination of the flagging UK economy and the APD burden makes this a very tough time for carriers to retain services.'