Optimism or Deceit?
Bless ’em, they’ve got to spin the best yarn they can to persuade TDC to play ball over night flights, so Manston commissioned York Aviation to spin it for them. Cruelly dubbed by some as “the porkies from the Yorkies”, the report from the independent aviation consultants has plucked some enticingly large numbers out of thin air.
They state, with what is intended as reassuring confidence, that by 2018 Manston will have created 2,070 direct jobs by handling 2,286,000 passengers a year – that’s 1,104 jobs per million passengers. Let’s see how that stacks up against reality:
Two things stand out on this graph:
- The Manston figure is far higher than any other. The lowest of all is the inventor of the absurdly low cost flying cattle truck, Ryanair (106, less than a tenth of Manston’s figure). By their own admission, Ryanair have pushed the low cost (and therefore low employment) model about as far as it can go.
- Where we have enough points for a trend, it is definitely downwards. The increased competition from the ever-increasing number of airlines, the growth of the low cost model, and the squeeze of rising fuel costs have all resulted in falling staff levels at airlines.
The comparison with other airports is even more enlightening, and the same two features grab the attention:
- Manston’s figure is higher than any other this century, and is more than four times higher than its sister airport at Prestwick.
- Again, the trend is overwhelmingly downwards. The relentless growth of the low cost model brings with it lower staffing at the airports it uses. Manston’s strategy, as laid out in the Master Plan, is based on attracting passengers using low fare carriers “such as Ryanair, easyjet or bmibaby”.
Is Manston really so committed to regenerating East Kent that they will charitably over-employ? Are Kentish workers really so much lazier than anywhere else in the UK? Are Infratil’s shareholders thrilled at the prospect of Manston promising to become the least efficient airport in Britain?
Enough of the rhetorical questions, already! Manston’s job forecasts have gone far beyond optimism, and beyond exaggeration. These numbers are wild extrapolations from an absurdly bullish, and frankly unachievable, Master Plan. Manston’s hope is that TDC will fall for it, and permit night flights.
Manston is currently unsellable (as a commercial passenger airport) because nobody has managed to make a go of it. Its a non-runner. Getting the go-ahead for night flights MAY be enough to persuade someone with a different, i.e. non-passenger, business model that it could work for them. Infratil promise their investors a 20% return. The Manston site cost them £10.3m in 2005 and has lost millions a year ever since. Their investors won’t have the patience for Manston to start breaking even, let alone wait for it to start delivering a 20% return.
Intfratil’s best option is to make the airport sellable, by giving it a unique selling point – 24 hour flights – and sell as soon as possible for as much as possible, thus crystallising their losses and freeing up cash to invest elsewhere.