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The biggest airport in Wales, which was bought using taxpayers’ money for £52 million, when a Scottish equivalent was purchased for £1, claims it’s on track to hit a target of 50 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger numbers, but experts have warned that it starts from a very low base as the worst performing one in the UK, and it still faces possible closure, The Eye can reveal.
One flight expert told us: “What they don’t say is that NOWHERE is as bad as Cardiff for passenger numbers, so there is a lot of catching up to do”. Another stressed: “Everyone in the industry knows that the writing is on the wall for Cardiff Airport. I can’t put my name to this because otherwise we won’t get official information from Cardiff. But the airport is in crisis”.
Cardiff Airport (CA) passenger figures 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.
These worrying statistics have been released, amid revelation that the far more popular Bristol Airport (BA) is growing, with planning permission given to allow expanded capacity and lift the cap on the number of passengers there from 10 million to 12 million a year, as well as offer enhanced facilities.
As these details emerged, one onlooker said on Facebook (FB) about CA: “I do really worry about the long term viability…”, while others have reported: “Unfortunately Cardiff is too close to Bristol…”, and “I wouldn’t call Cardiff a major airport…”.
Another outraged traveller said on CA’s own FB page earlier, that he was “not happy” he now had to fly from “bloody Bristol”, while one announced: “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. 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 detractor 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 critic, 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 (Welsh Assembly Government, the former Welsh Government) for 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!”.
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 in 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”.
The remarkable events recently at CA have even been the subject of our satirical writer Edwin Phillips. They are 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.
These critical issues also seem to confirm other worrying information about CA, with the expansion at BA, appearing to hammer yet another nail in the coffin of the Welsh airport.
One aviation expert told us: “This (BA’s expansion) 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”.
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), 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 the 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 (now nine) 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 planning approval for expansion at BA, the condemnatory social media comments, and today’s news of a 50 per cent ‘target’ for passenger numbers, when CA is the worst-performing airport in Britain, cast a critical light on its purchase using millions of pounds of public money. When it was bought by the Welsh Government (WG) in 2013 for £52 million a valuation of it in March last year said the airport was worth only £15 million.
Since this 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 (which has now been scrapped), as well as unknown amounts of incentives to airlines, some of which pulled 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 Welsh Conservatives (WC) demanded evidence that nationalisation would provide value, and the Welsh Liberal Democrats (WLD) warned it would become a “money pit” for public funds, which could, now, have been borne out.
Yet airport officials are confronting such comments, and being bottom of the league table for passenger numbers, by counter-intuitively appearing upbeat.
The Chairman of CA, Wayne Harvey, has said recently: “I am confident that with the great team of people across all departments at Cardiff Airport we will deliver on our recovery plans…”.
Meanwhile, in the face of accusations about wasted money, the man in charge has blamed the WG, despite ministers spending millions of pounds 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 may be the airport claiming to be on track to reach 50 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger numbers, when experts have warned that its the worst performing one in the UK, and still faces possible closure.
Details of our Editor Phil Parry’s astonishing career (including being the first to reveal uncomfortable 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.
Tomorrow – how an admission by the new head of the biggest police force in the UK that people have been “let down”, puts centre stage again the failings of the largest one in Wales, as critics accuse it of abandoning dozens of families in THAT country