“Is a monthly stopover in Argentina too high a price to pay for a direct weekly flight to Sao Paulo, the biggest flight hub in South America,” is the question we all have to ask ourselves, said MLA Summers this week as he set out the situation and options available to progress and develop the Islands’ economy.
He explained that an opportunity had now arisen to put such a flight in place, but to do so required the agreement of the Brazilian Government, and the confidence of the successful airline that they would not be punished in some way for flying to the Falklands.
“This will only come from explicit Argentine agreement not to obstruct the flight. Simply flying around Argentine airspace, as some have suggested, is unlikely to achieve this, though we will continue those lines of discussion. At this early stage Argentina has indicated that in return for advising the Brazilian Government that it does not object, they would like the flight to stop over once a month in Argentina. At this current time no more, no less.”
MLA Summers said the task for the Falkland Islands was to find ways of moving forward that do not compromise or put at risk, hard won political, social and economic development. “That underpins all of our discussions with UK Government Ministers, and is not in question. The UK Government (or the dreaded Foreign Office as one correspondent put it) have left the improvement agenda to FIG and have not tried to push any particular line, or to force FIG to agree to anything which appears unwise,” he said.
The Penguin News letters page last week included some lengthy considerations of the merit of the recent Joint Statement between Argentina and Britain which if implemented would mean as well as an extra flight, getting rid of restrictive sanctions and increase the north south flight availability.
Much of what was said in the letters to PN centred on whether Argentina could be trusted, and experiences of the past. “That is entirely understandable,” said MLA Summers. But, he said, since the flight comes at the Falklands Government’s option, it could be stopped at any point.
People have to be able to get here to contribute to economic growth whether it is tourism, fishing or hydrocarbons, or the still essential development of new industries, “and we need to get to markets.”
Looking at the current connection of Punta Arenas, which has been the only commercial option for many years, he said it was expensive, not well connected to major destinations, and for most very much out of the way.
“The air-bridge is OK for the UK in limited numbers, but it is clear that we will always be restricted for capacity as it fulfils its military role. An alternative north to south air-link through a major hub has long been a necessity, and has been discussed in various guises since the mid 90s. We can stop it any time we choose if it appears that there is some threat to security or safe passage. But it is only once a month, not every flight. Can the UK Government insist it continues if we don’t want it – no they can’t. Can the Argentine Government insist it continues or change the rules without our agreement – no they can’t. So the current FIG judgement is that the flight does not present a security risk,” said MLA Summers.