You Can’t See the Flight Plan

The Department for Enterprise has refused Gef’s attempt to have a review into the island’s air routes published as doing so would be against public interest.

It was confirmed by now Treasury Minister Dr Alex Allinson that a review undertaken into the island’s air services was being undertaken in the House of Keys on November 9 2021.

While we know the review is being undertaken, we don’t know what has been considered or what options are on the table, for example could this bring an end to the island’s Open Skies policy?

In response to our FoI, the DfE said that it wouldn’t release the info as it is being used in the ‘formulation or development of Government policy’.

It added: ‘The information requested was commissioned by this Department and is being used to provide informed background and options for the future policy for air services to the Isle of Man. This policy is yet to be agreed by the Council of Ministers and remains in active development.

‘Disclosure of the information at this stage is considered to be potentially detrimental to the broader economic interests of the Isle of Man, ahead of finalising the agreed policy and engaging further with the aviation industry. Section 34(1)(a) is a qualified exemption and therefore it is subject to the public interest test, to determine whether the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.’

For and Against

The DfE did admit that the release of the information that we sought would provide a greater understanding of the current application of Open Skies, how it impacts all of us and what options are open to the gov to secure air routes to and from Ronaldsway.

However, it also argued that releasing the info would provide it to airlines of the potential policy direction in advance of policy being agreed. The department added that this could also allow a ‘dominant airline’ with the resources behind it would be able to gain a significant advantage over competitors and ‘therefore potentially distort any future open market process’.

Furthermore, it added: ‘Future aviation policy, and its effective application, are of critical importance to  the Island’s people, economy and position as an attractive place to live, work  and visit, therefore it is considered to be of greater public interest to conclude  policy development prior to releasing relevant information at this stage.’

However, the gov has said that the information will be released on completion of policy development and implementation. However, if the gov only intends to publish this information upon the implementation of its new policy, this, it can be argued, would prevent the public from engaging with the formation of a policy which will, perhaps more than many others, will impact upon all of our lives.