Kent International Airport could be as busy as Glasgow Prestwick in five years, according to Manston’s new boss. The forecast comes just weeks after Infratil, the New Zealand investment company, bought the Thanet airport from the administrators of former owners PlaneStation for £17 million.
Infratil already owns Glasgow Prestwick which has seen a surge of growth in recent years, employing 500 people directly with a further 3,500 jobs related to the airport. Steve Fitzgerald, chief executive of Infratil Airports Europe, said:
“Sure, this could become another Glasgow Prestwick within five years. There are a lot of parallels between the two operations. Glasgow Prestwick is probably five years ahead of Manston at the moment. We’ll be targeting Manston in a slightly different direction. But in terms of can it get to two to two and a half million passengers, can it get to 34,000 tonnes of cargo? Yes.”
The catchment areas are similar with the main difference that round-the-clock flying was permitted and local people seemed to be wholeheartedly behind the airport.
“People are used to it and understand the positives the airport brings.”
He pledged to re-engage with the local community and speak to residents about Infratil’s plans. Infratil has already notched up an early success by winning back the custom of freight operator MK Airlines, which defected to Europe last year after complaining about high landing fees. On the passenger front, Mr Fitzgerald has spoken to dozens of airlines about the advantages of Manston.
He is optimistic that a scheduled airline will sign a deal before next summer. But he said it was unlikely to be on a similar scale to EUjet, grounded by financial problems after less than a year. Mr Fitzgerald said EUjet started with too many routes without having enough time to build brand recognition and customer loyalty. He said:
“EUjet tried to replicate a Glasgow Prestwick operation overnight when it was built up there over 10 years by Ryanair. It can be done but it takes more patience. It’s arguably desirable to have several different airlines serving the airport and even some that aren’t based in the UK.”
Mr Fitzgerald confirmed Infratil was in for the long haul, with plans for steady growth over the next 20 years.
“Our business model is a 20-year model and it shows that on a modest build-up of traffic, we’ll be losing money for three years. We think it’s an exceptionally good long-term investment. Infratil has a brand with a good long-term view and a track record of delivering returns for long-term investment.”
kentonline 13th Oct 2005