The viability of Cardiff Airport could be weakened if the Welsh Government presses ahead with constructing a £1bn section of motorway around Newport, green campaigners claim.
The faster and more reliable road journey – coupled with the reduced Severn tolls which the Welsh Government hopes to implement – would play into the hands of rival Bristol Airport, they say.
The Welsh Government paid £52m for Cardiff Airport last year but has not provided evidence that the airport’s future was considered during development of the plans for the M4 relief road.
AirportWatch, a coalition of environmental campaigns, said several civilian airports in Britain had closed in the last few years because people and freight were gravitating towards larger airports.
Latest statistics show that Bristol has six times more passengers than Cardiff.
“Sheffield [city airport] recently shut down because of the competition from Manchester,” said John Stewart, who chairs AirportWatch.
“You could see a similar situation where Cardiff is really going to struggle to compete with Bristol and possibly Heathrow.
“As we know with motorways, rather than regenerating a less wealthy area they often tend to bring people in to the more prosperous areas they’re linking in to.
“If the road is built through the Gwent Levels, it’s probably faster to get to Bristol and London [in the future]. The M4 corridor west of London is quite prosperous.
“The impact on Cardiff Airport of people going to fly from somewhere else should be factored in.”
Mr Stewart said the cost of Severn tolls and risk of delays on the current M4 around Newport could encourage some Welsh fliers to choose Cardiff over Bristol.
Mr Stewart claims a faster motorway and cheaper tolls could make Bristol more attractive to Welsh residents.
He said: “It’s probably too dramatic to say they signal the writing on the wall for Cardiff, but I think it will mean there are extra hurdles which Cardiff will have to climb if it’s going to remain a viable airport. It may or may not do so,” he said.
“Bristol Airport isn’t far away and it’s looking to expand. The South-west [of England] is wealthier than the wider Cardiff area. Although the budget airlines sell themselves on allowing people to go to the sunshine once or twice a year, their real money comes from the moneyed people who travel five or six times a year.”
He claimed it would be controversial for the Welsh Government to respond to weakening viability by pumping more public money into Cardiff Airport.
Stephen Joseph, director of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “There’s been an assumption in the thinking about the new motorway around Newport that it would bring more growth and employment into Wales. It could result in businesses moving out of South Wales.
“Hidden among all the debate about whether to have extra runways at Heathrow or Gatwick is the fact that there’s been a consolidation at the regional airports. If you’re EasyJet or Ryanair, you’re not going to spread around all the airports, you’re going to concentrate on one.
“That’s not to say that nobody would create business at Cardiff but Bristol is servicing the high-tech businesses on the north Bristol fringe, which provides a base of business for Bristol airport that isn’t there in Cardiff.”
However, Welsh aviation expert Martin Evans, visiting fellow at the University of South Wales, said: “We’re never going to have a situation where one airport gives up and closes.
“Both have advantages and disadvantages. Bristol has really captured the low-cost market, both for its part of England and for South Wales. It would be very difficult for Cardiff Airport to build a substantial presence in that market now.
“However, Cardiff has some advantages that Bristol doesn’t. It has better operational characteristics. It has room for growth, so perhaps there are markets that Cardiff can compete in and find its own niche.”
Asked what assessment the Welsh Government had made of the potential impact on Cardiff Airport of the M4 relief road and reduced Severn tolls, a spokesman said: “We have announced a preferred route for improving the M4, which we believe is the best solution to transport issues around Newport and is vitally important to the economic prosperity of Wales.”
He referred to a study by independent consultants on future Severn tolls. However, the study dates from 2012 – before the Welsh Government owned the airport – and does not refer to airports.
Blackpool. Closed October 2014. Last remaining airline transferred to Manchester.
Manston, Kent. Closed May 2014 with loss of KLM service to Amsterdam and charter flights.
Plymouth. Closed December 2011 after loss of flights to London, Ireland, Scotland and France.
Coventry. Closed December 2009. Airlines transferred to Birmingham.
Sheffield. Closed April 2008 after loss of flights to London, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Sourced from walesonline