The Isle of Man is not a huge place. It takes an hour-and-a-bit to drive from North to South, and around half an hour to drive from East to West. With just 85,000 residents, the Isle of Man suffers not just from geographic concentration, but economic concentration: there’s only one gas retailer, there’s (basically) only one passenger shipping service, there’s only one electricity retailer, there’s (basically) only one hospital, there’s only two mobile phone providers, and so on.
The result is that the Isle of Man is unusually vulnerable to localised disruption. A contagious disease, an unusual weather event, a changing climate, and a financial crisis may all place the Isle of Man in a position of extreme vulnerability.
We saw that this week in the inability of the Isle of Man Government to continually operate air traffic control at our airport. The result is that flights circle overhead, burning fuel, delaying travel, and causing a whole series of problems. This is not good!
The Government Minister responded by saying that his department had previously sought to hire additional air traffic controllers. This is a focus on management, rather than a focus on leadership. Imagine, for a moment, that either the last pandemic – or the next – disrupted our air traffic controllers. Because they are localised, all the good eggs of our staff are in the single basket of our one management structure.
The next disruption might be a computer hack, or a employment dispute, or a building fault, or a freak storm, or any one of a million other possible faults. Concentrating all our good eggs in one basket is dangerous – we currently suffer as a community from a management structure in our Government that has tried to provide air traffic controllers just-in-time, and is, unfortunately, failing to do so.
We need to move from just-in-time management to just-in-case management.
In the case of something as mundane as air traffic control, this means that we need to build management structures, and physical structures that are resilient. This means that when our air traffic control staff need to go off-shift due to regulatory and safety requirements, we need to have systems that can seamlessly activate to allow planes to land. Not only will that benefit us in the day-to-day case that we currently suffer from, but more importantly, it will build resilience in the Isle of Man for the next, unknown, disruption.
Preparing for the last emergency is not enough: we need a philosophy of leadership that mitigates the next risk – whatever that risk may be.