Air head one

The Eye
Latest posts by The Eye (see all)
Passenger comments underline the fact that numbers at Cardiff Airport are worse than anywhere else in the UK

Renewed passenger anger at controversies surrounding Wales’ biggest airport which was bought with taxpayer money for £52 million, when a Scottish equivalent was purchased for £1, underlines how mainstream media outlets and politicians are only now warning that the future there looks bleak, when journalists on The Eye have been reporting difficulties for MONTHS

The remarkable events recently at Cardiff Airport (CA) have even been the subject of our satirical writer Edwin Phillips.

One outraged traveller said on CA’s own Facebook (FB) page that he was “not happy” he now had to fly from “bloody Bristol”. Another declared: “There has never been sufficient demand in the winter from Cardiff”. A further tourist proclaimed: “I flew to Tenerife on 13th  Dec from Cardiff. Only 45 of us on the flight”.

Huge concern from flyers was shown on other sites too, after an internal service, which had been recently restored, was halted.

Flights from Cardiff to Belfast were ‘suspended’

Last year, direct flights from CA to Belfast were introduced, operated by Eastern Airways, but, even though the flights were greeted with enormous fanfare, the route has now been suspended.

A Welsh website which reported the disturbing news, described CA as “troubled”.

A critic said online that questions should be asked of the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC), while another stated that it was cheaper to fly from Bristol.

A further detractor, included in his comments a spoof news report, with a remark from a CA executive:  “Never mind, we will just apply to our pals at the WAG (the former Welsh Assembly Governmentfor another massive donation of tax-payer cash.”.

Other fury was directed at the Hungarian budget airline Wizz Air (WA), which was initially attracted to CA but then ‘postponed’ flying from the airport. An aggrieved customer posted: “I had 5 flights booked with Wizz air for this year and had paid for club membership for 12 months.  They then pulled the plug. So I now have credit notes. I hope they do actually start next year but I won’t be booking until I know for sure!”.

Questions were asked of the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru – but no one answered

These criticisms stress earlier announcements from passengers about CA.

One sightseer said last year: “Just had our (WA) flights for Sep 2021 cancelled…”. Another wrote:  “Cardiff seems doomed ,gutting , the Welsh government needs to help but it won’t, very sad.”  A further complainant state: “Drakeford’s (FMW) running CWL (the international code for CA)  into the ground”.

Such exasperation about events surrounding CA, emphasise how The Eye have long been alone in publicising problems at the airport, which are only now reflected by reports in the mainstream media, as well as remarks by senior politicians.

UK Aviation News has reported: “The future of Cardiff Airport (CWL/EGFF) has been thrown into doubt today following comments made by the Welsh Labour-controlled Government that owns the airport”.

Yesterday CA advertised that a new ‘Aviation Development Manager’ had joined them called Marc Watkins, and he may have an uphill task.

The Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters, MS, admitted to other Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC) politicians: “I don’t think that subsidising and encouraging domestic air travel is in keeping with the challenge of climate change that we have and that the Prime Minister is trying to claim great international leadership on; I think it is a contradiction”.

Natasha Asghar said Welsh ministers were sitting down on the job

The Conservative Deputy Minister for Transport Natasha Asghar, MS said: “The minister’s comments were somewhat surprising given the number of taxpayer handouts Cardiff Airport has received since being taken into public ownership eight years ago by Labour.

“It is a little hypocritical of Labour to say subsidising air travel is a bad thing, when they’ve pumped in hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer cash, and continue to do so, into their failed vanity project.

It doesn’t look good for Cardiff Airport…

“If Labour ministers are planning to stop subsidising Cardiff Airport because it flies in the face of climate change, then it raises some serious questions over its future.

“I have no doubt that Cardiff Airport could become a thriving transport hub but after this latest intervention its future is now hanging by a thread”.

Ms Asghar’s comments highlight the fact that CA was bought by the Welsh Government (WG) in 2013 for £52 million, while the Scottish Government (SG) purchased Glasgow Prestwick Airport (GPA) for just £1, yet a valuation of Cardiff’s in March said it was worth only £15 million.

Was Carwyn Jones blind to the problems at Cardiff Airport?

Since the acquisition using public money, the WG has provided over £130 million in support in the form of loans and equity investment.

There has also been around £3 million in subsidies for the Cardiff to Anglesey air link as well as unknown amounts of incentives to airlines, some of which ended up pulling out as soon as the money stopped.

But in December 2012, the First Minister of Wales (FMW) at the time, Carwyn Jones, had said, when the airport was about to be obtained, that it should make a “return to the Welsh taxpayer”Plaid Cymru (PC) welcomed the announcement as well, and declared that CA needed to be a “shop front” for Wales, but the Conservatives (C) demanded evidence that nationalisation would provide value, and the Liberal Democrats (LD) warned it would become a “money pit” for public funds, which may, now, have been borne out.

Plaid Cymru said Cardiff Airport could be a ‘shop front for Wales’

Despite the money spent on it, the airport has still failed to achieve success compared to other regional airports, and languishes at the very bottom of the league table.

CA passenger numbers plunged by 87 per cent during the height of the pandemic, with travellers there falling from 1,656,085 in 2019 to just 219,984 in 2020.

Southampton Airport suffered an 83.4 per cent decline, London City Airport saw a drop of 82.3 percent in passenger figures, with numbers at Leeds-Bradford Airport going down by 81.2 per cent.

Spencer Birns – ‘the WG encouraged people not to travel’

However, the man in charge blamed the WG, even in the face of ministers spending millions of pounds to keep his airport afloat.

The Chief Executive of CA, Spencer Birns told a committee at the WP/SC“There was more traffic handling at other airports than there was at Cardiff, but then don’t forget we’ve been in a position in Wales where, and quite rightly so, the government have been so heavily focused on the health of the nation, that actually encouraging people not to travel overseas has been a major factor in the Welsh government’s approach”..

Roger Lewis, then Chairman of Cardiff Airport (third from left) with Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akber Al Baker, (fourth from left) the Welsh Secretary at the time Alun Cairns (fourth from right) and the Welsh first minister at the time Carwyn Jones (second from right) greeting Qatar Airways

Meanwhile, in stark contrast to the fanfare from senior officials, politicians, and the mainstream media in Wales when a link-up was announced between CA and the state-run Qatar Airways (QA), Mr Waters acknowledged that providing incentives to airlines, as they have done with QA would also be against the climate change policies.

The headline-grabbing news of the original association, came in spite of the UK Government warning potential travellers to Qatar that they faced major risks, and it stated on its advice website:  “Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Qatar.

Eight sovereign nations around the world have severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and in July 2017 it was reported that the state had been cut off by some of its neighbours over alleged terrorist support.

Qatar denies backing groups linked to Islamic State (IS), although it does admit it supports the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

Qatar admits it supports the Muslim Brotherhood

The emirate had refused to comply with an initial list of 13 demands, saying it would not agree to any measures that threatened its sovereignty or violated international law.

But it was told by its neighbours that they wanted it to accept six broad principles on combating extremism and terrorism.

When the first flight from Doha (Qatar’s capital) was due, WalesOnline reported faithfully the words of Roger Lewis, then Chairman of CA, when he said: “This is a pivotal moment for Cardiff Airport, for Wales and the South West of EnglandThe far reaching consequences of this service for passengers and businesses will be transformational”.

Deb Bowen Rees – ‘transformational’

The same praising word was used by the Chief Executive of CA at the time, Deb Bowen Rees, who told the South Wales Echo (SWE):  “The Qatar Airways service has been transformational…”.

In interviews, Mr Jones (First Minister of Wales [FMW] when it was announced) stated:  “We would like to work with his excellency (Akbar al Baker the Chief Executive of QA).

Mr Jones tweeted that he “welcomed” the first QA flight into CA and said it represented a “huge boost” for Wales.

Alun Cairns is plugged in

The then Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns informed us:  “The new flight from Cardiff to Doha plugs our entrepreneurs straight into one of the most dynamic economies in the Middle East, and an airport which offers a further 150 global destinations”.

As well as this service (which has, like WA, also now been ‘postponed’), CA executives appear to have put their faith in attracting budget airlines – a policy which has also seemingly failed.

If only this was Cardiff Airport…

A significant number of grievances on social media followed the announcement from WA that it will not fly from CA until at least later this year, blaming the decision on pandemic restrictions.

The backdrop for the original news about WA flying from Cardiff was the extraordinary acclamation (as with the link-up with QA, and the Belfast service) it received in the Welsh mainstream media (it had been described as a ‘British’ airline in the South Wales Echo [SWE], and it IS London-listed, but eastern Europe-focused, and WalesOnline appeared to have reverted to ‘Hungarian’ in a more recent report about it postponing the flight).

Stobart Air had only just announced new routes from Cardiff, but went into receivership

This came as the Irish firm Stobart Air (SA) appointed a liquidator, and the sudden announcement that it was ceasing trading was hard on the heels of it revealing on May 5, two new routes to Dublin and Belfast, which were to begin in 2020.

It’s episodes like these that paint a disturbing picture of what is happening now at Wales’ biggest airport, and passenger fury on social media shows the truth…


Book poster

Tomorrow – how even after 23 years with BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW), and 38 years in journalism (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), it is the few years as a trainee reporter on the Cardiff evening paper, the South Wales Echo (then the biggest-selling newspaper produced in Wales) which have provided our Editor Phil Parry with most of the memories about some of the weighty characters in journalism.

Details of his astonishing award-winning journalistic career (including being the first to reveal disturbing facts) as he was gripped by the rare neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!

Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.