Wales politics

Cardiff Airport lacks long-term expansion plan, say AMs

Cardiff Airport Image copyright Cardiff Airport

Cardiff Airport is missing its passenger targets and lacks a long-term plan to expand, a committee of AMs has said.

The airport was bought by the Welsh Government for £52m in 2013.

The decision to buy and the price paid caused controversy, but the Public Accounts Committee said ministers had had "a clear rationale" for going ahead with the deal.

The transport minister said swift action saved the airport from closure.

Edwina Hart added that customer satisfaction was at an "all-time high".

After Cardiff Airport was taken into public ownership, passenger numbers rose from 995,000 to 1.079m in 2013-14, but in 2014-15 the numbers declined to 1.005m.

The airport now expects numbers to rise to 1.4m by 2017-18, although the business plan produced at the time it was purchased projected passenger figures of around 2m by that date.

On the cost of the purchase, the committee refers to the range of independent valuations offered to ministers, including one by KPMG that suggested the site was worth £20m-£30m.

The report said: "We remained unconvinced that the Welsh Government had a clear negotiation strategy, and we question the decision to make an initial offer of £55m, with a view to negotiating the purchase price down afterwards."

Image copyright Cardiff Airport

Committee chair and Conservative AM Darren Millar said it was clear the airport had been "in decline" before 2013, and "prospects for turning it around under its previous ownership were bleak".

"We also recognise the importance to Wales of having its own international airport and the wider benefits for Wales arising from this," he said.

"However, although the airport has the potential to grow significantly, we note its progress against the acquisition business plan in terms of passenger growth are behind target."

The report said Glasgow Prestwick Airport produced business plans looking up to eight years ahead, while Cardiff Airport had only two-year plans.

Responding, Mrs Hart said: "If we had not acted swiftly the airport would have undoubtedly closed.

"Instead, customer satisfaction is now at an all-time high with 1.2m passengers using the airport over the past 12 months - the highest level since 2011."

Airport managing director Debra Barber said: "We would like to make it very clear that while we report to our holding company with a rolling two-year business plan, we operate with much longer term projections.

"The PAC [Public Accounts Committee] is looking backwards. We are continuously forward-looking with a real vision for the future of the airport."

Meanwhile, airline Flybe announced it would operate flights between Cardiff and London City Airport during the six week closure of the Severn rail tunnel from 12 September to 21 October.

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