Disturbing revelations that the former director of an airline which flew from Wales’ biggest airport, declared investors would never put money in, and an ex-owner had warned ministers it was in the “wrong place”, underline problems at the nationalised facility which have been highlighted by The Eye FOR YEARS.
Sir Stanley Thomas said that Cardiff Airport (CA), which was bought using millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money when a Scottish equivalent was purchased for only £1, would probably cease to exist in five years time.
Sir Stanley’s words echo those of David Bryon, an ex-director of BMI Baby which offered a service from CA, who has proclaimed the airport was built in the wrong place to attract enough passengers, and that no-one in their “right mind” would invest in the airport.
In 2021, CA served just 123,000 passengers, which compares with 2.08 million for Bristol Airport (BA), 6.2 million for Gatwick Airport (GA) and 19.3 million for Heathrow Airport (HA). Even since many coronavirus/Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, figures show that in 2022, the Welsh airport had recovered to handle only 811,000 passengers.
Sir Stanley said: “It’s throwing good money after bad money and it will continue that way because it’s not going anywhere. Cardiff Airport cannot be enhanced in any way at all”. Meanwhile Mr Bryon has stated: “Nobody in their right mind would look at investing in the airport as an infrastructure”.
These highly critical comments put centre stage how our journalists have exclusively disclosed that another onlooker, who watched as alarming events unfolded at CA, exclaimed on Facebook (FB): “I do really worry about the long term viability (of CA)…”, different enthusiasts reported: “Unfortunately Cardiff is too close to Bristol…”, and “I wouldn’t call Cardiff a major airport…”.
A separate angry traveller has also said on CA’s own FB page in the past, that he was “not happy” he now had to fly from “bloody Bristol”, while it has also been announced: “There has never been sufficient demand in the winter from Cardiff”. A further tourist said: “I flew to Tenerife on 13th Dec from Cardiff. Only 45 of us on the flight”.
Huge concern from flyers has, too, been put on other social media sites after an internal service, which had been recently restored, was halted.
Direct flights from CA to Belfast were introduced, operated by Eastern Airways, but, despite an enormous fanfare in the mainstream media, the route was later ‘suspended’.
A Welsh website which published the worrying news, described CA as “troubled”.
A detractor has also said online that questions should be asked of politicians in the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC), while another said that it was cheaper to fly from BA.
A further critic, included in his remarks a spoof news report, with a ‘message’ from a CA executive: “Never mind, we will just apply to our pals at the WAG (Welsh Assembly Government, the former Welsh Government (WG)) for another massive donation of tax-payer cash.”.
Other fury was directed at the Hungarian budget airline Wizz Air (WA), whose arrival at CA was greeted as “Good news for holidaymakers”, but cancelled its operation there. 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.”.
Such exasperation about events surrounding CA, emphasise how The Eye have long been alone in publicising difficulties at the airport, which are only now reflected in media reports, comments by prominent politicians, as well as in ones from senior figures who have been connected with it in the past.
UK Aviation News has published: “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”.
The remarkable situation at CA has even been the subject of our satirical writer Edwin Phillips.
It is set against a picture of thriving airports in Scotland, which are almost the same distance apart as CA and BA. The time taken travelling between Edinburgh and Glasgow airports is over an hour, while it is only 18 minutes more between CA and BA, yet both are successful because their services complement each other rather than compete. It is clear that BA is popular with fliers, unlike CA.
One aviation expert told us: “This (an expansion at BA) might be positive for Bristol, but it is TERRIBLE for Cardiff. I just don’t see how it can survive”.
Another said: “Coming on top of everything else, this may be the death knell for Cardiff Airport. It is just in the wrong place, and people don’t want to fly from there”.
In stark contrast to the acclamation 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), the Welsh Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, MS, acknowledged that providing incentives to airlines, as they have done with QA, would be against climate change policies.
He admitted to other 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”.
Other politicians, however, were disconcerted by this announcement. 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. 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”.
The growth at BA, and the recent condemnatory comments from senior figures, cast a critical light on the purchase of CA using millions of pounds of public money.
It was bought by the 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 last year said it was worth only £15 million.
Since the public acquisition, 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 pulled out as soon as the money stopped.
However 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.
Despite the money lavished on it, the airport has still failed to achieve success (as with BA) compared with 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.
But the man in charge has blamed the WG, even in the face of ministers spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to keep his airport afloat. The CEO of CA, Spencer Birns told a committee at the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (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”.
Another major factor for CA, may be that people don’t want to fly from his airport, and a former owner of it had warned government ministers it was in the “wrong place”…
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