Plans to transform Cardiff from declining regional airport to international hub revealed
Backers of what is being called the Western Gateway Project, have submitted details about it to the DfT as part of its consultation on aviation policy (closed 31st October). The plan is to transform Cardiff from an under-performing regional airport into an international hub. In a first-stage vision for the Spanish-owned airport a group of transport experts and entrepreneurs believe a relatively modest investment of £250m could elevate the airport into a “western gateway” facility – potentially providing hub and point-to-point flights to global destinations such as North and Latin America – while also helping to address the issue of where to provide additional hub airport capacity in the UK. The group plans to make a fuller submission to the Airports Commission next year. As well as founder and entrepreneur Rudi Plaut the group’s other members include enterprise academic Professor Brian Morgan and transport experts Martin Evans and Stuart Cole. They will now look to work with the Welsh Government to develop a more in-depth business case for a hub airport.
Ambitious plans to transform Cardiff from an under-performing regional airport into an international hub operation will be submitted to the UK Government today.
In a first-stage vision for the Spanish-owned airport a group of transport experts and entrepreneurs believe a relatively modest investment of £250m could elevate the airport into a “western gateway” facility – potentially providing hub and point-to-point flights to global destinations such as North and Latin America – while also helping to address the taxing political issue of where to provide additional hub airport capacity in the UK.
Backers of what is being called the Western Gateway Project, will submit details to the UK Government’s Department for Transport as part of its consultation on aviation policy.
It will then look to make a fuller submission to the independent commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, set up by the Prime Minister to look at options for new hub capacity in the UK.
Over the past decade there has been an impasse on where to locate much-needed new hub airport capacity in the UK –with a political stumbling block being Government fears over a loss of votes around Heathrow if it backed expansion there.
As a result the Davies Commission will not report until after the next general elections.
A number of increased hub capacity solutions in the south-east of England have been put forward. These including a third runway at Heathrow, a new airport championed by London Mayor Boris Johnson in the Thames Estuary, a dual hub between Heathrow and Stanstead through improved rail links, as well as new runway capacity at Gatwick after its expansion restriction expires in 2019.
Birmingham, with the benefit of the proposed High-Speed Two rail investment from London, has also stated its hub aspirations.
Bristol, which is approaching six million passengers, has land capacity issues, but not Cardiff – which could feasibly serve both hub and point-to-point services to North and Latin America.
The Western Gateway group will now look to work with the Welsh Government to develop a more in-depth business case for a hub airport for consideration by the Davies Commission. Cardiff Airport has seen its passenger numbers in recent years decline to around one million, having once been as high as 2.5m.
In its submission the group also notes that in the longer term, Cardiff and Bristol airports could work together if a road and rail link formed part of a Severn Barrage, as well as highlighting the benefits of a new high-speed rail network from the south-east of England to South Wales.
While the group has not at this stage put projected passenger numbers from any hub operation, the current terminal has capacity to accommodate three million without need for significant investment.
With Bristol constrained by space an investment of around £70m would be needed to lengthen and widen Cardiff’s existing runway to ensure it can accommodate full-load freight and passenger flights serving destinations as far west as California.
The existing terminal would also need to move to the north to allow more room for aircraft stands. The group said the hub would need to be supported by further investment in rail and road infrastructure to the airport, which, although not identified in its submission, includes a spur off the Vale of Glamorgan line into a new train station at the airport.
Aviation studies show that every additional million passengers at an airport creates around 1,000 jobs.
Mr Plaut, who is also chairman of Northmace said: “It is great to get this up and running with the coming together of business, consultants and academics, with a common thrust for a project that would revolutionise the economy of South Wales.
“A hub airport would also act as a catalyst for new inward investment activity into Wales and it also chimes with the aviation maintenance facilities around the airport and at St Athan and plans to develop an aviation-focused enterprise zone in the Vale of Glamorgan.”
Mr Evans said a “build it and they will come” strategy should be adopted at Cardiff Airport.
He said: “The success of the hub airport does depend on attracting an airline partner to build a route network. I can point to a number of airports that have the infrastructure, but are never going to become hub airports.
“If the current Silk Commission leads to the devolution to Wales of powers over Airline Passenger Duty, we may have the mechanism to attract an airline partner if the powers are used wisely.”
A potential issue would be whether current owners Abertis would have the appetite, even with the potential support from the Welsh Government through new borrowing powers, to make such an investment.
However, a UK Government endorsement for hub activity at Cardiff would make it a far more attractive acquisition target if Abertis opted to sell.
Commercial director of Cardiff Airport Stephen Hodgetts said: “ We have submitted an official response to the UK Government consultation in which we call for recognition of and support for an enhanced role for Wales’ airport.
“We understand that other, unofficial, submissions are being made and we are pleased to see that widespread support for the growth of Cardiff Airport continues.”
A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “We want Cardiff Airport to realise its potential to be a modern, well-connected success at the heart of our national infrastructure.
“The airport is a gateway to Wales and should provide a fitting welcome to business and leisure visitors to Wales and play a key part in our economic growth.
“That is why the First Minister created the Airport Taskforce – and we are committed to working with the owners, the business community, and all those with an interest in the airport to achieve this aim.
“Mr Plaut’s proposals are currently being considered.”
In its submission to the Department of Transport the group says: “The Western Gateway project allows radical solutions to be proposed and examined so as to break the current aviation policy stalemate.
“There are no insuperable technical, strategic or market problems and the solution can be provided at a lower financial and impact cost than south east England-based proposals
“There is Welsh Government support for the Western Gateway and broad stakeholder support, something entirely lacking in the south-east England-based proposals.”
Cardiff Airport could be “Heathrow’s sixth terminal” – Sir Howard Davies
- By WalesOnline
- Nov 2 2012
Sir Howard Davies outlined some of the proposals he would consider as part of his investigation into the best way forward for air travel in the UK.
Sir Howard, the Airports Commission chairman, said there was “no clear consensus” on the best way forward for UK airports.
He said his commission would try to produce a final report by summer 2015 which would give the government of the day the opportunity to make decisions quickly.
Sir Howard said: “The arguments are well understood. Some are political, some are not.
“What we are trying to do is to make sure the work we do is useful and allows decisions to be made more quickly.”
He went on: “The coalition Government is prepared for us to look broadly at all the options on the table as well as some that are not on the table so that a government can come to it after the General Election with an open mind.”
Labour had been keen on a third runway at Heathrow Airport but on coming to power in 2010 the coalition Government ruled this out.
Mr Johnson supports a new Thames Estuary airport while architect Lord Foster has submitted his own estuary airport plan.
Asked if everything was back on the table, Sir Howard replied “yes”.
He said options his commission would be looking at in addition to the main ideas included.
:: Possible further use of Birmingham Airport if the HS2 rail link goes ahead.
:: A so-called Heath wick plan, in which a fast rail link between Heathrow and Gatwick would enable the two airports to be regarded as a twin hub.
:: Cardiff Airport to be regarded as Heathrow’s “sixth terminal” when fast rail links are completed.
:: A plan to “move” Heathrow westwards which includes putting part of the M25 in a tunnel.
Aviation expert Martin Evans, who was part of a panel of entrepreneurs and transport experts that submitted ambitious plans for Cardiff Airport to be the “Western Gateway” to Heathrow, said that if it was under consideration it could represent a “game-changing” moment.
“People, and particular airlines, would start to view Cardiff differently if accepted,” he said.
“And, of course, if Cardiff becomes more attractive to airlines because they think there is going to be more services by other airlines in future, it then becomes almost self-fulfilling, as new airlines coming in, adding capacity, new passengers and makes it more attractive to other airlines.”
He said, if the commission recommended part of all of the plan, it would mean “literally thousands” of jobs employed directly and indirectly by the airport.
“But much more than those thousands of jobs directly or indirectly associated with aviation, we could see a large number of extra jobs from companies,” he said.
“And that is not just service companies, it could be high manufacturing companies attracted by the better connections for freight.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Aviation is vital to the UK economy and we need to have a long-term aviation policy which meets the challenges of the future.
“Sir Howard and his team will now take forward this vitally important work for the Government and bring a much-needed fresh perspective to the debate.”
Under a local agreement, no extra runway can be built at Gatwick before 2019, although expansion at the West Sussex airport will be among options looked at by the Davies Commission.
Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate said: “We welcome today’s launch of the commission. The detailed work and analysis on how to maintain the UK’s status as an international aviation hub can now really begin.
“At Gatwick, we have already announced that we are beginning detailed studies on the options for a second runway. We know that Gatwick can play a critical role in addressing the current and future capacity problems in south east England.
“A new runway at Gatwick could be more affordable and practical than other options and give passengers a greater choice of routes to key destinations.
“At Gatwick, we have the space, the capability and the access to financial resources. Critically, we would have a significantly lower environmental impact when compared, for example, to a third runway at Heathrow.”
Corin Taylor, senior economic adviser at the Institute of Directors, said: “Sir Howard is obviously doing the best he can with the hand he was dealt, but the Government must look again at the excessive length of time before they allow him to report.
“The uncertainty already caused by years of delay on airport expansion is damaging enough without waiting even longer to make a decision.
“It seems that the Davies Commission will have solid conclusions based on extensive research ready well before 2015 – business needs to know what they are as soon as possible. We must remember that airports are not standalone installations – delaying this question for three years will have knock-on effects on surface infrastructure like rail connections.”
A Heathrow spokesman said: “We hope the Davies Commission will build consensus on the UK’s requirements for hub capacity and then rigorously assess every option against those needs.
“None of the options for hub airport capacity is easy. Every choice, including doing nothing, has its consequences. However, a clear positive decision would stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and help secure Britain’s competitiveness in a changing world.”