(Title Image: Rhydgaled via Flickr and the Creative Commons Licence)
The Welsh Government purchase of Cardiff Airport in 2013 raised a lot of eyebrows at the time and continues to do so (the Public Accounts Committee report was published in 2016: The Great Cardiff Airport Swindle?).
During Welsh Government time yesterday afternoon, AMs got a chance to debate the present situation and future of the airport.
- Recognises the economic and social importance to Wales of Cardiff Airport, with 1,700 people employed at the Cardiff Airport site, generating £250million for the Welsh economy.
- Welcomes that Cardiff Airport is now responsible for the operation of Anglesey Airport’s passenger terminal and recognises the important regional air link between north and south Wales.
- Agrees it’s vital for Wales’s trading economy post-Brexit to support Cardiff Airport as part of a high quality, integrated and low carbon public transport system in Wales.
- Notes the UK Government’s interventionist approach to rescuing Flybe but calls upon the UK Government to go further by supporting the cost of regulation at the UK’s smaller airports, as happens across Europe.
- Calls upon the new UK Government to devolve Air Passenger Duty in full to Wales.
Cardiff Airport “would have closed” without government buy-out
Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), categorically said that had the airport remained with the previous owners it would’ve closed.
The Welsh Government were not “wasting” taxpayers’ money by investing in the airport. The government have loaned the airport money on a commercial basis and will expect a return with interest.
He went on to say that the airport’s masterplan for 2040 offers opportunities to address major challenges, including climate change and transport links; discussions are ongoing with universities keen to use the airport as a testbed for new technologies.
Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), noted the debate was tabled before Flybe’s collapse, meaning it was now more important. While the Conservatives share a long-term ambition for the airport, they want it to return to private ownership as governments are not aviation experts. He used the example of previous government passenger and profit projections which have either been pushed back or missed.
Going against the party line at UK level, the Welsh Conservatives support the devolution of air passenger duty. They would also support a direct US flight, flight to Manchester and investing in capital infrastructure to boost the airport’s income.
“We can’t do without an airport. In the longer term, we all know that we need to reduce the amount of air travel that we have, but there is also clear, consistent academic evidence that regions without their own airport suffer from that. There is the practicality of people moving in and out, but there is also that message….and needing to send out that message that Wales is open for business, that we are here. And I think we do have to remind ourselves of the history here: there’s absolutely no doubt that we would have lost that airport if the Welsh Government hadn’t stepped in.”
– Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)
Privatisation “was a disaster”
Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) defended the airport’s public ownership, citing a turnaround in passenger numbers and securing Qatar Airways. He accused the Welsh Conservatives of “subservience”, with the Conservatives being outspoken supporters of Bristol Airport yet doing little to support a Welsh airport.
“It is also right to underscore here that Cardiff Airport is indeed an important piece of strategic transport infrastructure. It is a key economic asset for Wales, and as such its vitals are strong. Nearly 1.7million passengers flew from Cardiff Airport in 2019. That’s up 7% on the year before, the busiest year since 2009, and up by 65% since our Welsh Government involvement.”
– Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn)
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), said his committee was looking in detail at the long-term sustainability of the Welsh Government’s commercial loan facility – which has been maxed-out at £38million and likened to a blank cheque – though Jenny Rathbone (Lab, Cardiff Central) later corrected him by saying it was “only” £36.2million.
Nick Ramsay pointed to one positive – the fact Cardiff isn’t as dependent on a single airline as other airports, which provides a measure of resilience.