Freight traffic has been identified as a key growth area for Cardiff Airport, said its chairman Lord Rowe-Beddoe.
And the chairman said the airport, located in an enterprise zone for aerospace, also has an important role to play in growing Wales’ reputation as a centre of excellence in the sector.
Bluechip employers include GE Aviation Wales at Nantgarw, Cardiff Aviation at St Athan and British Airways whose operations in Wales includes its aircraft maintenance facility – British Airways Maintenance Cardiff – located at the airport.
At the moment the airport only handles a small level of freight related traffic. Last year it handled 1,052 tonnes.
Recognising the potential to grow market share Lord Rowe-Beddoe said: “There was certainly more freight [out of Cardiff] than there is now.
“One of the attractions for the Middle East [potential new route from Cardiff] and onwards is freight.”
The former chairman of the Welsh Development Agency added: “What we tend to forget is that we have 1,600 employees across the campus [including BAMC] and 20% of the UK’s aeronautical business is in Wales.
“Every jumbo at BA is maintained at our airport. And it is very attractive if anyone is thinking of bringing an aircraft here [both maintenance and flights] that we have people who actually know what it looks like. This is why I think it is so natural for us to build our airport on that reputation that this industry has in Wales.”
The airport was acquired last year by the Welsh Government from Spanish firm Abertis in a £52m deal, minus professional advisory fees.
At some stage Lord Rowe-Beddoe said the Welsh Government would seek a return on its investment, but a sale, or part sale, was currently not on the agenda.
However, it is unclear what any future UK Government’s position on a sale would be. It could view any financial upside for the Welsh Government as part of and not additional to its block grant settlement. This would mean any profit would simply be reduced from its budget – even in any post Barnett Formula funding era.
On any future sale he said: “You have to have something on the table that people really want [valuable airport] and you don’t want people to come in to rescue you.
“We have been rescued. Now I want to extract the value for the taxpayer… it is as simple as that.
“My personal view is that I would want to see a serious offer and one which meets all the criteria we would have set up with the Welsh Government.
“What would be very important to me is for the taxpayer to maintain an interest potentially through a golden share. That should not upset any potential investor.”
Since its acquisition the Rhoose-based airport has seen an encouraging rise, although modest, in passenger numbers to just over one million.
Over the next three to five year horizon there is potential for the airport – underpinned by realising a significant low cost carrier presence – to reach and exceed the 2.2 million high point achieved in 2007 when it was owned by TBI.
Lord Rowe-Beddoe said: “As soon as we could get to that position I would be a very happy man.”
As with the other members of the board, who include former senior partner of Grant Thornton in Wales Geraint Davies, Lord Rowe-Beddoe is on a two year term.
On the prospects for another term he said: “I have never walked away.”
On Business Minister Edwina Hart, who also has responsibility for transport, he said: “I am delighted to work with her.”
On his appointment and the acquisition price he said: “I cannot comment as I was not part of that negotiation.
I was presented with the fact by the government that, tomorrow we are going to announce the acquisition of an airport and would you please be chairman of the board?
There was some deliberation and I cannot recall my immediate response to the official who rang me.
“However, in my opinion it is imperative that our nation, no matter how small or inward looking that unfortunately we tend to be on many occasions, that Wales has a functioning airport in its capital. It just has to have it.”
As well as seeking to win back more than the one million passengers from its catchment area now using Bristol Airport each year, it is looking to secure a route into a hub airport in the Middle East.
The business case for such a route suggests it is unlikely that Bristol and Cardiff could support their own. So both are effectively in a competitive race to land a carrier serving a catchment area covering Wales and the south-west of England.
As a state-owned airport, although its operates via an at arms length trading company. Lord Rowe-Beddoe said the airport is well aware of issues over state aid rules.
He said: “There are things we have to do, and can do, which are commercially acceptable. And we will be aggressive where we need to be and passive when we need to be.
“There is nothing we would do that would in anyway endanger the airport with regard to state aid rules.”
Sourced from walesonline