Welsh 'Gatwick' airport plan for Severnside defended

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Media captionJohn Borkowski says the Welsh government should sell Cardiff Airport and invest in Severnside

The man behind proposals for a Gatwick-sized airport in Wales has defended his ambitions following claims they are "far-fetched".

Both Cardiff and Bristol airports would need to be sold if a £5bn Severnside Airport was to be built near Newport.

Cardiff airport said it was focusing on improvements while Bristol called the plan unrealistic.

But John Borkowski said there are too many regional airports and a larger hub would boost the economy.

Previous proposals for a "Severnside" airport were rejected more than a decade ago by the UK government under an aviation white paper's 30-year plan for air travel.

But fresh proposals have now been submitted to a UK government group looking at the future of air travel.

They promote the idea that a major airport should be built somewhere along the Welsh coastline, south of the former Llanwern Steelworks site in Newport, by about 2029.

It would include a 4,000m main runway with road links to the M4, sea links and rail links to the main London-Wales mainline.

One thousand people would be employed, while there is also potential for 10,000 support jobs, the proposals say.

The airport would also be capable of handling large, transatlantic planes and freight flights, with the number of passengers forecast to rise from 14 million a year initially to around 40 million by 2050.

Image caption Cardiff Airport would close, along with Bristol, under the Severnside plans

With the majority of planes taking off and landing over water, the noise and air pollution for nearby residents would be minimised, the proposals also claim.

However, the plans would depend on the sale of the Welsh government-owned Cardiff airport and the privately-owned Bristol Airport - along with the transfer of their passengers and airlines to Severnside.

'Business travellers'

Mr Borkowski, a former British Airways executive who has his own aviation consultancy, says that the future of air travel in the UK will depend on less regional airports and more large hub airports, partly to reduce the environmental impact but also to aid economic development.

"This airport we're talking about is something completely different [to Cardiff and Bristol]," he told BBC Wales.

"What we're talking about is a big airport, much more attractive, with state-of-the-art facilities.

"I mean, if you look at Cardiff and Bristol, the facilities are okay for a small regional airport but they are not equivalent to the sort of stuff you find in big international airports.

"What we're talking about is having facilities for full service airlines, not just for low-cost carriers, which is going to attract a different kind of market into that area.

"To attract the inward business traveller, the man who wants to invest, you need a big airport.

"He doesn't want to fly into Heathrow and then have to get onto a train somewhere."

'Less attractive'

Mr Borkowski said that with the potential closure of Heathrow in the future, it was more important to consider developing a larger airport for Wales and the south west.

"If Heathrow isn't there, just say in the case the government decides to develop the Thames Estuary or maybe even Stansted, what happens then?" he asked

"Because suddenly Wales' traffic has got to go a lot further east to get out by long haul flights or inbound on flights and that's going to make it less attractive to invest in Wales."

He said the Welsh government was right to focus on improving Cardiff airport after recently buying it for £52m amid concerns about falling passenger number.

But he insisted that in the long run it would pay to be part of the Severnside, along with Bristol's owners, to avoid the duplication of flights and build an airport that catered for both holiday and business travellers.

'Forced closure'

However, Bristol Airport - seen as one of the best performing regional airports serving around six million passengers a year - has dismissed the idea.

Chief executive officer Robert Sinclair said: "The Airports Commission has received many proposals for different airport schemes right across the UK.

"It is important that these are deliverable solutions not somewhat far-fetched proposals reliant on the forced closure of a successful, privately owned airport which supports thousands of jobs.

Cardiff Airport chief executive Jon Horne also said he was focusing on improving the existing airport rather than any potential new Severn airport.

"The focus here is the now and near future and doing the best job we can for the benefit of the people of Wales," he added.

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