“Viable” urge council to buy Plymouth City Airport lease
Viable Group, which is an American investment advisor located in Texas, hopes to reopen Plymouth City Airport, and wants Plymouth City Council to buy back the lease for the site. Viable Group claims its five-year plan could see 500,000 passengers using the airport afer 5 years if owners, Sutton Harbour Group (SHG), would sell the lease. Sutton bought the 150 year lease from the council in 2000. Plymouth City Council said it supported the idea in theory. Some of the land at the airport has already been earmarked for a £38m housing project. Viable wants to start off with charter services, and then go to scheduled daily domestic flights using two 19-seater planes. Then they want a 40-metre extension to the runway, allowing 90-seater jets to connect Plymouth to Europe.
A group hoping to reopen Plymouth City Airport wants the city council to buy back the lease for the site.
Viable Group http://www.theviablegroup.com/ claims its five-year plan could see 500,000 passengers using the airport if owners, Sutton Harbour Group (SHG), would sell the lease.
SHG blamed the economic downturn for the airport’s closure in December.
Plymouth City Council said it supported the idea in theory. Some of the land at the airport has already been earmarked for a £38m housing project.
SHG, which has not commented on the proposal, took over operation of the airport in 2000 on a 150-year lease from the city council.
Viable’s director Raoul Witherall said: “We’ve got huge public support on this now, some 16,000 have signed the petition supporting a move to seeing the airport retained for the city.”
Plymouth city councillor Ian Bowyer, cabinet member for finance, said the council supported the idea of the airport, “so long as there was a viable plan”.
Under Viable’s proposal, the first year would be dedicated to getting the airport operating, attracting users and resuming charter flights.
The second phase would be the reintroduction of daily scheduled air services, with two 19-seater planes flying to British destinations.
The final phase would involve a 40-metre extension to the runway, allowing 90-seater jets to connect Plymouth to Europe.
Viable said the vision was achievable with a total of £850,000 and the project would be a “superb investment for Plymouth”.
Mr Witherall said the council needed to “provide certainty” and “sit down with the leaseholder and take the decision that Plymouth wants an airport and therefore come to agreement that frees the lease up for aviation to carry on”.
Few people would object if the Viable Group can deliver a profitable, privately run airport for Plymouth – but it will be very difficult to achieve.
Sutton Harbour Group currently holds a 150-year lease on the airport. With a duty to its shareholders it sees that as a valuable asset. Some estimate it could be worth as much as £15m.
Viable wants the city council to sit down and thrash out a deal to buy it back. Both the outgoing Conservative and the incoming Labour administrations have expressed their support for the cause. And to protect it, the airport site has been removed from plans to redevelop the area.
But spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash on a project, with no guarantee of success, could be a step too far.
Plan for co-operative to run Plymouth City Airport ‘for the people’
THE group behind plans to re-open Plymouth’s airport is looking at becoming a co-operative to ensure the airstrip goes into the hands of “the people of Plymouth”.
The Viable group has already become an incorporated company but is now looking into becoming a organisation in which businesses and individuals have a stake.
If it can do this, it believes it paves the way for Plymouth to have the UK’s first co-operatively run airport – provided Viable gets its wish for the lease to revert to Plymouth City Council.
But if that can be achieved, Viable, believes, it would mean the airport could be kept from the clutches of an outside company, unless it wanted to run it as an airport.
Viable, which is also opposing any proposals to “carve up” the airport even if it involves setting a heliport there, is looking at commissioning a study into the economic impact of the airport, which closed last December.
The group feels last year’s report from Berkeley Hanover Consulting, which could not identify “an economic rationale” for the council to underwrite the airport’s risks, did not show “the full picture”.
Viable chairman Raoul Witherall said: “We are exploring options to structure the company as a co-operative. That’s not a straight forward proposal, an airport is a difficult beast in some ways.
“But we would like to see it operated by the people of Plymouth. This gives them the opportunity to be involved in it.”
Last year, Sutton Harbour Group, which holds the 150-year lease of the 104-acre site, shut the airport saying not enough businesses used it.
Viable has since produced a business plan to reopen the aerodrome and have 500,000 travellers using it within five years. But the plan hinges on the lease being available.
“We need to make sure the freehold goes to the local authority,” Mr Witherall said. “Then the airport needs to grow and be nurtured to a robust state of health. That needs to be done by an aviation business, but here in Plymouth rather than an outside company.
“Any actions will be about getting that business to a sustainable position where we can consider its future.” But Mr Witherall said that putting the airport under control of a company could be considered at a later date and added: “It’s future could be in different hands. We can consider future options once we get to a position of sustainability. The articles of association as a co-operative could say it would only be sold on as a protected aviation business.”
He said Viable’s proposed new independent study of the airport’s economic impact was designed to “bring new evidence to light” and would concentrate on “the future impact of Viable’s plans to operate the airport.”