Byron Davies argues that Cardiff Airport has the potential to be a massive success but to truly thrive, it belongs in the private sector.
Posted: January 7, 2015 Filed under: Cardiff Airport & RAF St Athan | Tags: Byron Davies AM, Cardiff Airport, CWL, EGFF, Shadow Transport Minister, Welsh Government
Byron Davies AM is the Shadow Transport Minister and Welsh Conservative Assembly Member for South Wales West
Press Release by Byron Davies AM,
In December 2012, after years of criticising Cardiff Airport’s management, the Welsh Government announced its intention to buy Cardiff Airport. Since its purchase three months later, the airport has faced mixed fortunes and is not yet making the major advances required to compete in the UK’s aviation race.
I disagreed with Labour’s decision to buy Cardiff Airport for £52million. I feel it is the role of governments to create the conditions for economic growth and to raise the standard of public services, not to play monopoly by buying up transport infrastructure like airports. However, now it is state-owned, Labour Ministers must work to improve it and make it a success.
Since it was taken over by the Welsh Government, they cannot be accused of failing to invest in it. A £10million loan has been made available to improve the passenger experience, upgrade technology and introduce new facilities. The first tranche of a £13million loan will be drawn down by Cardiff Airport next year to invest in route development, which is critical to the airport’s future success, broadening its range of airlines and choice of routes. A further £600,000 has been spent on improving bus links between Cardiff Airport and the nearest train station, Rhoose, as well as Cardiff city centre.
While investment was clearly needed, money alone will not solve the challenges Cardiff Airport is facing. The Civil Aviation Authority data for passenger movements at Cardiff Airport showed a year on year fall of 7% in September, equating to a loss of 10,000 people passing through the terminal. Last month, airline GermanWings announced its withdrawal of its Dusseldorf route, following the decision of CityJet to withdraw its flights to Glasgow. This week we learnt that Cardiff Airport will next year have a single return flight in 2015 to Orlando, which it is reported will enable families to take advantage of the Chancellor’s abolition of Air Passenger Duty for under 12s. Except that this single trip would require parents taking their children out of school and risking fines, which will make it difficult to sell tickets and could unfairly reflect demand for long-haul flights from Cardiff. It would be churlish not to welcome this route to Orlando, but a single flight will not bring the sort of step change in passenger and aeroplane movements that we want to see at Cardiff Airport.
Cardiff Airport has the potential to be massively successful as a major contributor to economic growth and prosperity in Wales, but it needs support to achieve this. One of the airport’s biggest selling points is the ability to access 100-plus routes via Schiphol to cities around the globe, but it’s difficult to convincingly market this when Labour Ministers choose to travel on trade missions from Heathrow. Even when they’re flying to destinations served by indirect or direct routes from Cardiff, Carwyn Jones and his colleagues seem to prefer to use other UK airports. How does this inspire confidence in Cardiff Airport’s reputation as a gateway to the big financial centres in Europe and the powerhouse economies of the USA, India and China, as well as a way for overseas tourists to explore Wales?
I believe Cardiff Airport’s future success will be underpinned by an unapologetic focus on route expansion to offer consumers greater choice and give tourists easier travel into Wales. We need to be securing major transatlantic routes from Cardiff and direct routes to some of the biggest economies in Europe and the wider world. The £13million loan for route development will surely help, but I fear that the civil service mentality that the Welsh Government brings with it, may not have the necessary aviation and private sector experience to help the airport succeed. The way in which the civil service operates is vastly different from the world of business and that’s one of the reasons I think Cardiff Airport should, as soon as is practical, be returned to the private sector. The taxpayer has invested a lot of money in Cardiff Airport, way above the original £52million price tag. I think the time will soon come when taxpayers should get their money back. Depending on the value of the airport at the time, this could put £50 back in the pocket of the average worker in Wales.
Cardiff Airport has faced numerous challenges since it was nationalised last year. To point those out and question the performance of its Labour Minister owners is not to talk the airport down, but to demand better. Cardiff Airport is an important part of Wales’ transport infrastructure and can generate growth in the Welsh economy, but it needs Labour Ministers to show confidence in it and act to increase passenger and aeroplane activity.