News that a nearby far more popular airport is expanding again, appears to have hammered another nail in the coffin of Cardiff’s which was bought with taxpayer money for £52 million, when a Scottish equivalent was purchased for £1, it has emerged.
Planning permission was given last week, to allow expanded capacity at Bristol Airport (BA) lifting the cap on the number of passengers there from 10 million to 12 million a year, and letting it improve the terminal building, upgrade parking facilities, as well as enhance transport links.
The Chief Executive Officer (CE0) of BA, David Lees, said online: “The decision is excellent news for our region’s economy, allowing us to create thousands of new jobs in the years ahead and provide more choice for our customers…”
But the decision may not be such excellent news for Cardiff Airport (CA) – Wales’ biggest.
One aviation expert told us: “This 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”.
The planning approval for expansion at BA, also casts a critical light on the purchase of CA using millions of pounds of public money. It 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 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.
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 could, now, have been borne out.
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.
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”..
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 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”.
These comments came after the extraordinary link up with QA, and in spite of the UK Government warning potential travellers to Qatar at the time that they faced major risks. 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).
As with the worrying reaction at this tie-up then, it seems that prospective fliers, as well as those taking trips, from CA are also critical.
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. 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 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 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.
They form a disturbing backdrop, as well, to the news now that BA is becoming even bigger, which experts say could mean the future is bleak for Cardiff’s, even though it was bought for the public with millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.
Details of our Editor Phil Parry’s astonishing 38 year award-winning, journalistic 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!
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