Cardiff airport nationalised

The Welsh government has taken the unprecedented step of buying Cardiff Airport amidst on-going concerns about its performance and ability to compete with nearby Bristol.

The Welsh government has taken the unprecedented step of buying Cardiff Airport amidst on-going concerns about its performance and ability to compete with nearby Bristol.

First minister, Carwyn Jones has previously been critical of the airport’s performance following a substantial slump in passenger numbers.

Figures published at the start of the year reported that just over a million passengers flew through the airport in 2012, a drop of 16.1 per cent, around 200,000 travellers. This compared with a peak of 2 million passengers in 2007.

At the time the BBC went on to note that “in contrast, it is estimated that 700,000 passengers from Wales were among the 5.7m flying from Bristol Airport – 24 miles (38km) from the Welsh border – in 2011.”

The result saw the Welsh government yesterday formally announcing that it had purchased the airport for £52 million. In outlining the move, Carwyn Jones was at pains to emphasise that it would be run at arm’s length from ministers and that the expectation is that it will lead to a return to the public purse.

He explained:

Cardiff Airport is a vital gateway to Wales for business, tourists and general travellers alike. It is essential that its future is secured and that we develop high quality sustainable services.

The Airport will not be operated by the Welsh government. It will be managed at arm’s length from government on a commercial basis and, over time, I expect to see a return to the public purse on the investment.

A chief executive of the airport will be announced in due course. In the meantime, I am delighted that Lord Rowe-Beddoe has agreed to serve as Chairman of the Airport Board.

Reaction to the announcement, the most high profile acquisition by the Welsh government, has been mixed, with Bristol Airport chief executive Robert Sinclair voicing concerns  that such state support for the airport could prove anti-competitive.

In other responses, the CBI in Wales called for “strong and effective commercial stewardship”; the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales argued that infrastructure around the airport, such as roads and rail, needed to be improved

Meanwhile the South Wales Chamber of Commerce “warmly welcomed” the sale.

The Welsh Conservatives went on the attack, however, dubbing the project a “socialist vanity project”. The party’s shadow transport minister Byron Davies said:

“This is a step towards some ideological outdated socialist dream where everything is controlled and run by the state.

“The role of government is to provide first class public services and create the conditions for economic growth, not to fritter away scarce public funds on buying airports.

“Instead of changing the ownership of the airport, we need improved marketing, investment in route development and major access enhancements to make it easier for tourists and business travellers to reach Cardiff Airport.

“Carwyn Jones needs to explain how new ownership of the airport will make any difference to the way it is managed and reassure the public that this is not some socialist vanity project at their expense.”

Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Lib Dems meanwhile called for further information on the government’s plans to take the airport forward, with Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood going on to conclude that there is “no reason why a publicly-owned national airport for Wales could not be far more successful than the airport in its present state”.

Noting the questions asked of the first minister at Welsh Labour’s recent conference, the BBC’s Political Editor for Wales, Betsan Powys has concluded on her blog:

“In Llandudno Carwyn Jones was asked about his wish to buy the airport. Why? It was totemic, he said. When people abroad ask him whether Wales has an international airport, their response – and presumably, in his view, desire to consider future investment – was coloured by the answer he gave.

“In future he will be able to answer with confidence – yes, it does. It’s just that now it’s up to him to make it fly.

“We’re all waiting for lift off.”

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