Kiwis fly in
All along the flight path, the whispered words are spreading like wildfire: the bigwigs of a company on the other side of the world are coming to Kent on Monday. I’m thrilled at the prospect of these well-travelled, high-spending visitors plastering shop counters with their New Zealand dollars, but I can’t help wondering why exactly they’re coming, and why now? I find myself being drawn to two options: end of deal; or, just possibly, a new deal.
Infratil already have their own hand-picked representative on Planet Thanet, in the form of the recently appointed Charles Buchanan. He has already been negotiating with TDC for some time. If Infratil HQ wanted to confer/plan with Mr Buchanan on strategy or progress, it would surely be easier to bring Mr Buchanan to HQ, rather than vice versa. If Infratil weren’t happy with his performance or negotiating skills, they would simply parachute in an “advisor” to operate Mr Buchanan from behind (as Rod Hull does Emu).
No, I think Infratil HQ has dragged itself half-way round the world because they have the authority to strike deals with TDC that Mr Buchanan doesn’t, and they’ve realised it’s time to jolt Manston from its steady decline. Infratil have used up their supply of hype – I don’t see what else they could offer TDC, or hold out as a plausible forecast. Having promised them the earth, there’s not much else left.
So, having run out of carrots, it’s stick time! Infratil’s bigwigs will be putting the frighteners on TDC in a curious form of reversed mugging – give us everything we want, or we’ll leave you alone. They will say that without night freight, they won’t be able to build the passenger traffic they need for long-term profitability, and would have to pull the plug. TDC will shit their britches at the prospect of Infratil leaving: huge political capital has been invested in the airport as a high profile strategic contributor to east Kent’s long-term growth; and if billionaires can’t afford to make a go of it, Manston will be seen more clearly for the poisoned chalice it is. I’m assuming that TDC’s first instinct would be to sell us all down the river.
Which brings me to the second (more interesting and hopeful) option: a new deal. Infratil have done their sums and have realised that Manston will not be a commercially successful airport. Infratil will know that aviation industry players, pundits and observers will have reached the same conclusion (probably before Infratil did) and as a result it will be impossible to find anyone willing to buy Manston as an airport. Unable to sell it as it is, and unwilling to just leave the keys in the front door and walk away, Infratil may well try to “re-purpose” Manston.
One of Infratil’s core businesses is energy production, and increasingly now green energy production. I would be completely unsurprised to find Infratil seducing TDC with promises of free energy from the Manston Solar/Wind Farm, coupled with absurd over-projections of the resulting employment.
[Infratil may even offer to sell the site to TDC for a small, or even nominal, sum. Doubtless, Infratil’s fancy-pants negotiators will run rings round the TDC old guard who have been wrong-footed, and wrong-headed, so often in the past.]