Wales’ former Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones has defended the north-south Wales air service following a year of heavy criticism over subsidies and falling passenger numbers.
Mr Jones said no self-respecting nation can afford to be without an internal air service.
The service was dubbed “Ieuan Air” by the Tories in 2008, who claimed the former politician was its chief beneficiary as North Wales’ only cabinet member.
In March it was revealed subsidies stood at £184 for each passenger between 2012-13.
Over the same two-year period, the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay reduced its grant to councils for lifeline bus services by 29.2%; a BBC investigation found Welsh councils have withdrawn at least 94 bus routes since 2011, while other services were put under review because subsidy per passenger exceeded £2 or £3.
The Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee revealed in July it had “significant concerns” over the Anglesey to Vale of Glamorgan air service because passenger numbers have plunged by around 43% since 2008-2009.
The committee was told planes on the twice daily weekday return service between RAF Valley and Cardiff Airport now run largely half empty. The 19-seater BAe Jetstream 31 plane operated by LinksAir has an average “load” of less than half, at around 46%-47%.
Mr Jones, now the director of the Menai Science Park, said: “For people living in the three counties of the north west (Gwynedd, Anglesey and Conwy) it’s an invaluable link because the decision making processes are in Cardiff and a lot of business people want to travel from north to south.
“Any self-respecting nation would need at least one air service linking its various regions. If you look across the continent of Europe there isn’t a single European country that doesn’t have an internal air link. I think Wales should be part of that.”
Despite the Public Accounts Committee findings, the former Plaid Cymru leader said the service was “well used” amongst families, business people and tourism operators. But he admitted it needed to be “marketed effectively”.
He said Government officials travelling between North Wales and South Wales would have to stay overnight at taxpayers’ expense if they relied on other forms of transport – rail takes four to five hours each way.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Transport Minister Eluned Parrott said the benefits of the air service have not been evaluated since 2008.
She added: “These often near empty flights are costing taxpayers £3,700 a day. The Welsh Liberal Democrats would scrap this wasteful and polluting subsidy and instead concentrate on improving rail links.
“That is what really would benefit the people of North Wales, rather than this barely used air link.”
In November Welsh Government Transport Minister Edwina Hart announced LinksAir will continue to operate on the route until December 2018.
Sourced from Wales Online