CEF 03 2022 Airlink Christmas Flights
As demand increases for the Christmas Flights departing Ascension Island, will there be any further flights added to the schedule?
Some constituents report of wishing to travel but being told the flights are already fully booked.
The inter-island air service is a charter air service, and not a commercial air service. As the UK government has in effect a policy that there is no right of abode in Ascension, the service exists to ensure that companies that operate in Ascension can meet their legal and contractual obligations with regard to facilitating the movement of their staff in and out of the territory.
Although it is not the responsibility of AIG to provide a service to ensure that firms are able to do this, AIG nonetheless engages charter flights, operated by Airlink, to help facilitate this. In order to safeguard the taxpayer’s money, employing organisations that wish to access the service are invited to join the Preferred Customer Agreement (PCA) cost-sharing arrangement. PCA members agree to split the cost of the charter services on a proportional basis, with each member’s contribution determined by the number of seats they commit to using across the duration of the PCA term. This provides that AIG is not liable to finance the entire service, and ensures that capacity reflects the forecasted demand from PCA members.
Any spare capacity is then ordinarily marketed for general sale to the public in order to generate additional revenue to help reduce the overall cost of the service to PCA members.
During the year there are certain times where demand increases. These are generally in line with the main end of school year holidays and at Christmas. As such, since 2018 AIG has worked to secure additional flights during these periods of peak demand, and has done so again for the Christmas 2022 / 2023 period, meaning there is twice as much passenger capacity as would otherwise have been the case.
Given the high demand for these peak flights, seating is reserved for allocation only to PCA members in the first instance. As PCA members are the ones that underwrite the cost of these flights, and therefore enable the flights to take place, it is fair that seating is reserved exclusively for their use at times where the majority of their staff will wish to take lave and travel off island. If there is spare capacity one month before any of these flights, and no other PCA member wishes to utilise this, any such seats will then go on general sale.
Due to the ongoing runway reconstruction project at Wideawake, capacity on Airlink operated fights is currently reduced to approximately 73% of usual payload, with an equivalent impact on passenger numbers. When PCA members were canvassed earlier in the year for views on the schedule for the 12 months following recommencement of the Airlink service, none indicated that there was appropriate demand for any further additional services during the Christmas peak demand period, even with the payload reductions in effect. Without a commitment to share the cost of further flights, and no indication that capacity was not sufficient to meet demand, AIG did not undertake to organise further flights given the financial risk this would have exposed the taxpayer to.
How PCA members distribute their allocation of seats to their staff is a matter of internal policy specific to each organisation. However, at this point in time no PCA member has indicated that they will not use their full passenger allocation for any of the peak demand flights over Christmas. It is therefore likely that only very limited, if any, seats on these services will be made available for general sale.
It should also be noted that given the impact the inter-island service has on the positioning of Airlink’s plane (as the plane must overnight in Ascension). Any changes to the ordinary flight schedule must be made 360 days in advance of the requested change to ensure that schedule revisions do not affect Airlink’s wider schedule, or that of travellers that have already booked other travel and accommodation based on the published flight schedule.
Noting the above, there is therefore no intention to organise any further flights in addition to those already scheduled for the Christmas period later this year.
Submitted: 1 August 2022
Response: 5 August 2022