National Airport or Second Class Provincial Airport?
Last December, the flight I was on returning from Gran Canaria was diverted from Cardiff to Bristol. The reason given by the pilot was that Cardiff was fog bound and although his aircraft had "fly by wire", Cardiff airport did not have the same facility to enable the aircraft to land safely. Bristol was also fog bound but they have "fly by wire" and hence the diversion. This diversion caused a considerable delay, waiting hours for buses to be arranged to transport us to Cardiff airport and the bus journey itself through foggy and icy conditions. I believe the Bristol bus was equipped with "drive by wire" which enabled us to make the journey.
Needless to say myself and the other passengers were not at all happy with the situation. I was rather puzzled because about 20 years previously I had landed at Cardiff airport in dense fog and it was explained then by the pilot that this was possible because both his aircraft and Cardiff airport had the "fly by wire" facility. So, what exactly has happened I asked myself that the National Airport of Wales should now be without such an important facility?
On the 7th December 2010 I sent an e-mail to Cardiff Wales Airport referring them to the diverted Thomas Cook flight asking them to clarify whether they had the "fly by wire" facility. I sent a second e-mail 10 days later urging a response and stated that if they failed to respond that I would seek clarification from the media. Well, one month has now elapsed and they have not had the decency to reply to my e-mails.
In that time I have done some research into interesting statistics for Cardiff and other UK airports. It has always bugged me about the lack of available destinations to fly to from Cardiff airport especially when you compare Cardiff to Bristol airport. Both of these airports are served by a poor infrastructure with no adjacent railway stations or motorways. To reach both of the airports involves travelling through congested urban areas and even minor country roads. Yet despite this, Bristol is able to attract a lot more scheduled and charter flights offering travellers a far greater choice of destinations than Cardiff.
The following recent 12 month statistics are very revealing and makes one wonder about the status and fate of our so called National Airport.
Wales (pop: 3,000,000)
Cardiff Wales Airport ( Passenger figures: 1,631,236)
Northern Ireland (pop: 1,800,000)
Belfast International ( Passenger figures: 4,546,475)
George Best International ( Passenger figures: 2,621,763)
Total Northern Ireland 7,168,238
Scotland (pop: 5,100,000)
Edinburgh International ( Passenger figures: 9,049,355)
Glasgow International ( Passenger figures: 7,225,021)
Aberdeen ( Passenger figures: 2,984,445)
Glasgow Prestwick ( Passenger figures: 1,817,727)
Total Scotland 21,076,528
Taking the above figures into account, if Wales was achieving the same results in proportion to populations then Cardiff Wales Airport should be handling in the region of 12 million passenger movements annually.
In a recent memorandum from Cardiff Wales Airport to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee and the Welsh Assembly Government it was stated that in the year previous to the memorandum that of the total number of passenger movements from Wales that only 39% were made from Cardiff Airport. London airports attracted 29%, Bristol attracted 10% with other English airports attracting the remaining 22% of the Welsh population. In the same memorandum it was stated by the owners of Cardiff Wales Airport that the airport:
"Is fully developed in terms of air traffic control and navigational aids."
Well excuse me, but if your airport is fully developed in terms of navigational aids, then why was my plane diverted to Bristol????? Why is a "NATIONAL" airport inferior to what is in effect a provincial English airport??? Why is it that with similar catchment populations that Bristol airport has 4 million more passenger movements than Cardiff airport???
Recently it was announced that the UK Government had put on hold the 1 billion pound electrification of the Paddington to Swansea railway line. This 1 billion pound would cut 20 minutes off the journey from London to South Wales. Well whoopee!!!! What Wales needs is not a slightly faster railway to get us to London and all the airports in the London area. What Wales needs is a decent International Airport. A new international airport would cost a fraction of the proposed electrification of the railway line. The costs could be met by the Welsh Assembly Government and by grants from the EU. A site should be found adjacent to the M4 and a railway line thereby providing excellent transport links. Sites such as Llanwern, Margam and the site of the old Felindre Tinplate works are all possibilities with all three served by railway lines and in close proximity to the M4. Bristol airport has a population of 1.2 million within a 1 hour drive of the airport. Any one of those three sites off the M4 would have a population greater than 1.2 million within 1 hours drive.
The core catchment and outer catchment populations of the current Cardiff airport is similar to the population of Scotland. Scottish airports report over 21 million passenger movements compared to the pathetic 1.6 million passenger movements from Cardiff. The benefits a new international airport would provide would be immense in terms of jobs, attracting businesses, prestige, and further investments. A modern airport built alongside existing transport infrastructure would attract more scheduled, charter ,cargo and bucket airlines.
Just doing some further research and I have come across figures released by the Civil Aviation Authority on the 40 busiest UK airports. They reveal that the passenger movements for Cardiff Wales airport dropped from 1,631,236 in 2009 to 1,398,247 in 2010 which is a drop of 14.3%. There was a general downturn in passenger movements with only 5 airports reporting an increase in passenger movements. The reduction in passenger movements at Cardiff airport was amongst the worst with only 4 returning a greater downturn. This follows on from a poor performance the year previously when passenger figures for Cardiff dropped from 1,994,892.
Cardiff airport is obviously failing and does not deserve the tag Wales or National. Does it have "fly by wire"??? Why was my plane diverted to Bristol?? I do not want to get to Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton or Stanstead airports 20 minutes quicker. I want a decent international airport just like any other country.
If any of the management of Cardiff Wales airport read this then please answer my emails!!! Or were my e-mails diverted to Bristol?
Update 2nd April 2012
Well, I never did get a reply from Cardiff Airport but they have been making the news recently. On the 14th March this year, First Minister Carwyn Jones said that the owners of Cardiff Aiport should run it properly or sell it. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17365581 This follows on from the recent release of passengers figures which reveal a drop of 13% in 2011 to just a little over 1.2 million.
In the news yesterday was an interesting aticle ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17571727 ) in which the Chief Executive of Bristol Airport said that he was keen to work closely with Wales' tourism bodies to improve the services "we [Bristol] provide for Welsh passengers". He also stated that about 700,000 of Bristols 5.7 million passengers come from Wales.
BMI Baby pulled out of Cardiff Airport late last year which amongst other things , means we have lost our link to Portugal. You can fly however to Portugal from Exeter or the smallest of Northern Ireland`s airports ( Derry International). Exeter which is just 60 miles from Bristol has an international airport and it has a population of less than 120,000 !!!
Scotland has 5 international airports and Northern Ireland has 3 yet Wales just has the one which is failing Wales. I have suggested that a new airport be built to serve Wales close to the M4 and railway network. Perhaps this should be near to Swansea which after all has a much larger population and catchment area than Exeter.
The Spanish owners of Cardiff Airport have managed to attract a budget Spanish airline to Cardiff providing flights to Palma, Alicante and Barcelona with the first of these starting operations in late March. Cardiff is already served with flights to Alicante and Palma so the only gain here is to Barcelona the capital of Catalonia.
Airport passenger figures for the 5 Scottish international airports were up by over 1 million in 2011 to over 21 million whilst the figures for the 3 Northern Ireland airports remained at around 7 million. Cardiff in the mean time dropped to just over 1.2 million. Latvia with a population smaller than Wales at 2.25 million had over 5 million passengers travelling through its airport in 2011. Albania which is regarded as one of the poorest countries in Europe has a population the same as Wales at 3 million, yet their international airport has more passenger traffic than Wales!!!!
Carwyn Jones and the Welsh government need to do something and to do it quickly. As I suggested in the original article, a new airport should be built on the M4 corridor where there is also the nearby rail network. Based on passenger figures for other airports and countries with similar populations to Wales, then there should be at least 7 million people passing through our airport and not just over 1 million !