TUESDAY'S European Commission's ruling on airline subsidies could scupper a number of low-cost airlines's plans to start flying to Minorca.
Mahon airport was all set to be the next Balearic destination to reap the rewards of the low-cost boom. Ryanair, target of the European Commission's ruling, was apparently in subsidy talks with the Balearic government. However now that Brussels has clipped airline state-aid wings, Ryanair and at least two other low-cost operators are having to rethink their Minorca flight plans. But, while Majorca has embraced the low-cost airline revolution and enjoyed the benefits, there is a certain level of opposition to the no-frills airline sector in Minorca, where the tourist season is the shortest in the Balearics. Minorca has next to no winter or low-season tourism and the UGT General Workers Union has expressed its concern that low-cost airlines, especially those operating with Balearic government subsidies on very low operating margins, would only destabilise a labour market, which according to the UGT's airport shop floor leader Paco Rejas, “has enough problems as it is. The UGT says that “low-cost airlines” pay the lowest wages and operate their work rotas on a day-to-day basis.
Rejas has said that airlines currently operating to Minorca, are trying to resist the arrival of the low-cost operators. Some have warned that they may be forced to pull their flights in the face of cheaper “unfair” competition. However, in the wake of the Brussels ruling this week, the Balearic government may have to shelve its plans to help subsidise the likes of Ryanair and other low-cost airlines which were interested in flying to Minorca. Better connections, especially from the UK to Minorca, would however only benefit the island, despite the union's concerns.
While local UGT boss Paco Rejas has boldly claimed that the low-cost operators would only attract the kind of tourism the island does not want and would only clash with the tourist industry's push for quality tourism, the area of the market to have benefited most from the low-cost boom in the Balearics has been the second-home residential sector. The independent holiday market, in particular agro-tourism, has also benefited from the no-frills boom and the low-cost operators are battling again for more take-off and landing slots at Palma airport in order to meet rising demand. Majorca and Ibiza have few complaints about the arrival of the low-cost airlines, on the other hand. However, nearly all of the charter and scheduled UK airlines have studied operating regular, year-round flights only to conclude that there is not the passenger demand as the tourist season is so short. Low-cost airlines would help Minorca to open up its industry, expand its product and in turn help boost the local economy.
Increased air services, in particular by low-cost airilines, significantly boosted the number of UK visitors to Majorca last year by seven percent.
A number of new operators have started operating between the UK and Majorca, while exisitng airlines increased their frequencies.
The number of UK passengers to Majorca is expected to increase further this year with easyJet, for example, starting its new Newcastle to Palma routes and Thomson launching its new Coventry to Palma flights in April.