Disturbing news that rejected passenger claims against a Hungarian airline are to be re-examined after an “unprecedented” intervention by the UK’s aviation regulator, have highlighted growing concern about the future of Cardiff Airport (CA), which was bought using millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money when a Scottish equivalent was purchased for only £1.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is taking action against budget operator Wizz Air (WA), whose arrival at CA was greeted in the mainstream media with the words: “Good news for holidaymakers”.
They follow alarming disclosures that the airline has not been paying passengers what they were owed for cancelled or delayed flights.
The ‘re-examination’ could lead to claims over the past six years being reopened, and follows other worrying information.
Plans were put in place to ‘reward’ the chief executive of the troubled airline, Jozsef Varadi, with a bonus of up to £100 million, and they faced a share-holder revolt.
This came despite a backdrop of passengers declaring WA the worst airline for short-haul flights in a Which? survey.
One aggrieved customer posted a major complaint online recently, proclaiming: “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.”.
More anger was directed at CA, which is the largest airport in Wales, and it has emerged that dozens of bags went missing on a flight landing there. One critic said jokily that the luggage could end up on ebay, while the original complainant declared it involved “almost all the passengers”.
It was disclosed on Facebook (FB) there were “103 missing bags in total”, but airport staff needed time to sort through them.
Earlier The Eye divulged how another onlooker, who watched as disturbing events unfolded at CA, said: “I do really worry about the long term viability…”, 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 worries from flyers were put on other sites, too, after an internal service, which had been recently restored, was halted. Two years ago direct flights from CA to Belfast were introduced, operated by Eastern Airways, but, even though the flights were greeted with enormous fanfare, the route was later suspended.
A Welsh website which published the news, described CA as “troubled”.
A detractor has also 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 (WG)) for another massive donation of tax-payer cash.”. UK Aviation News has stated: “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 Bristol Airport (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”.
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 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 alarming news about WA, 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 two years ago 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, which could, now, have been borne out.
Despite the money lavished 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.
However, the man in charge blamed the WG, even in the face of 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”.
Travel overseas’ is obviously problematic with WA, and the pandemic may not be to blame -after it was revealed there had been an “unprecedented” intervention by the CAA following news that rejected passenger claims against them were to be reexamined, putting centre stage mounting fears about the future of CA.
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 during 23 years with the BBC, and 40 years in journalism (when he was trained to use simple language, avoiding jargon), our Editor Welshman Phil Parry has regularly had to confront tongue-twisting ‘statements’ from organisations which have been caught out, and this is now underlined by ‘information’ released from a premiership football club about one of their most controversial players.