In the interests of even-handedness and fair play, I thought I would publish Manston’s statement on the importance of night flights, despite it being crap. Large chunks of this have been regurgitated by the local press.
If you can bring yourself to plough through this litany of self-serving distortions and special pleadings, do please bear a few things in mind:
- The “independent” report was produced by York Aviation, who describe themselves thus: “A specialist firm of air transport consultants providing a complete consultancy service for the airports business, including aviation policy advice, economic impact assessment, air traffic forecasting, and specialist advice on airport capacity assessment and planning.”
- The airport already had a ban on regular (i.e. scheduled) night flights when Infratil bought it. The long-standing S106 agreement with Thanet District Council allows for unavoidable and unscheduled late arrivals.
- I repeat: this is what they bought. It said “No Night Flights” on the tin when they picked it off the shelf.
- The thousands of jobs referred to throughout this blurb only exist in the forecasts made in Manston’s Master Plan.
- Passenger airlines don’t decide which airports to use on the basis of what times of day they can fly. They decide on the basis of whether their planes will be full or not.
- Infratil want to make Manston a 24-hour freight hub, and then sell it.
Imposing stringent restrictions on night flights at Manston could cost the Thanet airport an estimated 1.3 million passengers and 67,000 tonnes of freight a year by 2018, according to the final part of independent research into its future economic impact and even call into question the ongoing viability of the airport.
The airport has already tabled a proposal that would control and limit the amount of flying permitted at night. This business will be lost to the airport and the area if the more onerous restrictions, being suggested by the Labour Group on Thanet District Council, were to be imposed.
The final conclusion of the report suggests restrictions on night flights would increase the airport’s financial losses, making it untenable for any owner. According to the report, the ability to attract and retain a full mix of passenger and freight services will be dependent upon the ability to schedule flights during the night, both now and in the future.
As a result of the loss of trade due to restricting night flights, the report estimates that the airport’s potential to create jobs will be cut by almost half, from over 2,000 people directly employed in airport activities to just 1,102 jobs by 2018. The report, carried out by York Aviation, leading experts in this field, also concludes that the airport would support 484 fewer indirect jobs in the local economy over the same period.
Charles Buchanan, Chief Executive Officer of Manston Airport, said:
“The implications on the local and wider East Kent economy of restricting our operating hours beyond the proposal we previously submitted is estimated to be in the region of £30m a year, and even brings the airport’s financial viability into question. This may not just be a question of the scale of benefits that the airport can bring to the area, but whether there is a viable business at all under these restrictions. What we are trying to do is build a regional airport here in Kent which requires an ability to be able to compete on a level playing field with the likes of Stansted, Luton and Gatwick, as well as airports on the continent. Restricting our operating hours will fundamentally affect the economic viability of the airport. It will reduce our ability to attract passenger and freight services and secure based airlines, which would offer a greater range and frequency of scheduled passenger services.”
Low cost passenger airlines require flexibility of scheduling to maximise aircraft utilisation to be able to offer the more popular destinations such as Spanish sunshine resorts. Based airlines also provide a wider range of employment opportunities from flight deck and cabin crew to aircraft engineers to support the operation. Charles Buchanan added:
“An excellent example of what can be achieved with the correct conditions is the recent announcement by easyJet of their new base at Southend Airport. The airline is to operate three based aircraft at Southend and is able to offer low cost services to Alicante, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Belfast, Faro, Ibiza, Mallorca and Malaga. Unless Manston can receive a level of night flights consistent with our proposal, this kind of development will be denied to us; it seems to me that such services would prove extremely popular with the local community. Successful regional airports are also an important factor in attracting businesses into an area. A thriving Manston will have a positive impact on the ability to secure new companies not just for Manston Business Park, but also for Discovery Park, the former Pfizer site.”
The report concludes that the ability to handle some aircraft movements between 23.00hrs and 07.00hrs would be necessary for Manston to attract airlines, such as low-cost operators, with planes based at the airport, as well as handle greater levels of freight from around the world. Charles Buchanan continued:
“Persuading airlines to base planes at the airport is fundamental to our ability to maximise the benefit that the airport can bring to the Thanet economy. By doing so we will be able to develop a range of destination opportunities for local people, while bringing increased numbers of visitors to the area. Despite the on-going poor economic situation we remain confident that airlines will choose Manston and build upon our Flybe services and charter services.”
The report highlights the impact on the airport’s ability to secure freight traffic. Stringent restriction of flights between 23.00 and 07.00 GMT would effectively put the vast majority of countries, which export fresh produce into the UK, beyond the reach of Manston’s freight handling team. Charles Buchanan added:
“World fresh produce markets operate on narrow margins. Growers need to pick, pack and despatch within a day to extend the shelf life for supermarkets and customers. Regularly this means most flights depart for the UK in the evening even allowing for the time differences around the world, stringent restrictions would effectively close the door to many freight customers who want to use Manston. Our produce handling speeds are better than any other airport in the UK, where fresh produce often has to be unloaded, moved to a warehouse, before being loaded onto a truck. We take the produce from the plane straight to the truck with no double handling and delay. This means that loads are on the roads within minutes of landing giving a further day on the shelves and making us more attractive to freight operators.”
The first part of the Economic Impact Report, produced by York Aviation and published in May, suggested that the airport would directly employ 2,070 people and support a further 1,035 indirect jobs by 2018, if a level of night flights were allowed. It was also estimated that the Kent airport would deliver nearly £65 million GVA a year to the local economy by 2018 if its Master Plan development is realised.
The findings of the York Aviation study are consistent with the airport’s Master Plan and the owner’s commitment to developing a South East regional airport offering scheduled passenger services, chartered flights and handling international freight. Charles Buchanan concluded:
“We recognise that the issue of the airport’s operating hours is a high profile one within the District. We will be submitting further detailed proposals in the coming months and then Thanet District Council can present them to the public for consultation.”
Source: Manston’s website