The former chief executive of airports group TBI, Keith Brooks, believes that Cardiff Airport needs to be more realistic in its expectations for passenger growth.
Last week, in an unexpected move, it was announced that the airport’s chief executive Jon Horne will stand down next week after only 18 months in the role.
The airport’s director of operations Debra Barber will take up the role as interim managing director.
The airport’s board has yet to draw up a recruitment timetable to find a new permanent chief executive.
Mr Brooks worked closely with Mr Horne during his time at TBI – with Mr Horne being chief executive of one of the listed company’s portfolio of airports in Cardiff.
While the airport has not published any specific short to long-term passenger growth targets, since being taken over by the Welsh Government for £52m last year it has arrested year-on-year decline. Annual passenger numbers now stand marginally up at just over one million.
Mr Brooks said: “They have had massively unrealistic expectations of what they can do in this period [since acquisition].
“It is not like a widget factory where you can go in and see what had been produced at the end of the day and improve things.
“Aviation is a very slow moving industry and negotiations with airlines take a long time.”
The former TBI chief executive said that convincing a low-cost carrier, whether that beRyanair to increase its presence from one flight from Cardiff – with a service after an eight year gap to Tenerife from this autumn – or Veuling to expand on its existing routes would require “significant subsidy” inducements.
The airport’s board is chaired by former chairman of the Welsh Development Agency Lord Rowe-Beddoe.
Mr Brooks said: “If you look at the board they all have great CVs in business, but there isn’t a great deal of aviation expertise there.
“They have to focus on the macro picture and really understand the economics from a customer perspective (airlines).
“The Welsh Government paid a lot of money for what was a loss-making airport. However, despite the expectations you just cannot turn things around in a short period of time.
“Cardiff needs a low cost carrier, whether that is Ryanair or a major expansion by Vueling which is already at Cardiff. However, that is going to require a major subsidy.”
Mr Brooks said he believes that Mr Horne achieved success for the airport, despite only being in the role for 18 months.
During Mr Horne’s first tenure as chief executive of the airport, when owned by TBI, it achieved a high point of 2.2 million passengers in 2007.
Mr Brooks said: “I think Jon did a great job in rebuilding the credibility of the airport with the airlines and also starting the process of rebuilding relationships with the tour operators.
“When he was chief executive back with TBI Jon has profit and loss responsibilities and did a superb job in building strong relationships with all the stakeholders, including the airlines. He knows the industry very well.”
Cardiff Airport declined to comment.
In a statement last week confirming Mr Horne’s departure Lord Rowe-Beddoe said: “Jon has very successfully steered the airport through the first phase of our path to re-establishing its fortunes.
“This includes halting the decline in passenger numbers, establishing good and improving customer service and overseeing the physical transformation of the terminal as well as securing CityJet and the return of Ryanair to the airport.
“The board is grateful to Jon for all that he has done in laying the foundations for our future, we have agreed that whilst he will not continue his executive role, he will be available to the board as an advisor.”
Sourced from Walesonline