NEWSFLASH: the real reasons Flybe quit Manston – click HERE
Kent Online’s business editor Trevor Sturgess argues for a Parkway station and high speed rail links, but I think he’s missed a few relevant points [my comments are bracketed in italics].
Flybe’s decision to pull out of Manston is another blow to the airport, especially disappointing at the turn of the year. However attractive we in Kent think Manston is, it seems that not enough people agree.
Flybe’s bold experiment to run flights to Edinburgh, Manchester and Belfast was welcomed, but once again it ends in disappointment. The Manchester service was pulled some time ago, and the Belfast operation was grounded at the end of the summer. Edinburgh has been popular with leisure flyers, students, servicemen and women, and some business folk. But the lack of a day round trip made it inconvenient for business. It was a similar disappointment a few years ago when the Irish-based airline EUjet went belly-up after stretching itself over too many services.
[Business sense, and common sense, meant that Flybe reserved its prime slots at Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast for the flights that they knew were going to be full. This meant that flights offering same day turnaround were not available for Manston. This is simply another example of success breeding success, and the devil take the hindmost. This is a problem that Manston will always face – they will have to make the most of the scraps and crumbs offered to them, at least to start with.]
So despite the smiles on the ebullient airport CEO Charles Buchanan, Manston has a problem with scheduled passenger services. What message does Flybe’s decision send to other would-be operators? Manston has no difficulty with freight – including horses through its new equine centre – and charter flights to holiday places in the summer do pretty well. Car parking is a breeze. Two minutes after unloading the boot, you are in the terminal.
[Manston has the same difficulty with freight as it does with passengers – not enough. The holiday charter flights are seasonal, and few in number. The ease of parking and rapid access to the terminal are both a direct result of Manston being a tiny airport. If Manston does grow in line with its business plan, to the point where it’s handling 3 million passengers in 2018, the car park will have to be larger, the walk will be longer, and checking in will be take longer. This is the downside of growth.]
Yet there just doesn’t seem to be a big enough market for scheduled services. Why is this? OK, the downturn has not helped but there must surely be something more fundamental than that. One factor is constrained night-time flying. Thanet council should back the airport’s modest demands, despite opposition from some residents. It would, after all, be good for jobs and local people desperately need them. Manston ought to be the solution to over-crowding at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. But the Kent terminal with one of the longest runways in the UK has been largely overlooked in official reports, even though senior Kent people are always talking up its credentials.
[The long-standing ban on scheduled night flights is not what prevents the airport being a success. Easyjet went to Southend airport – which doesn’t have night flights. London City airport and Belfast airport, both very successful, are shut overnight.
The airport’s demands are not modest – they are asking for an unlimited number of flights between 11pm and 7am. The only restriction they are suggesting is between 11:30pm and 6am.
There is no evidence that night flights would be good for jobs – quite the reverse. The 3,000 jobs that Manston says it will create by 2018 is an absurd overestimate. The few hundred jobs that it might create will be easily exceeded by the number of jobs lost in the local tourism industry.
Incidentally, the length of Manston runway is no longer the advantage that it once was, as more efficient modern planes can take off and land in shorter distances.]
Manston’s disadvantage is that it’s more than 60 miles from London. At the eastern end of the UK, It is not surrounded by chimney pots. But remote airports are not seen as a disadvantage by the likes of Ryanair and EasyJet who bus people miles from a cheap out-of-town terminal.
[Now at last we get to the heart of the matter. Location, location, location.
Ryanair and easyJet can take advantage of “remote airports” if and only if they are the closest airports to the passengers’ ultimate destination. East Kent is not a popular destination for air passengers, London is. The huge number of passengers London attracts will inevitably and understandably use the airports that are more convenient.
So Manston loses out as an airport for arrivals, and it also loses out as an airport for departures. Again it’s down to location. If you draw a 30 mile circle around any successful passenger airport, you will find that the circle is full of people. If you draw a 30 mile circle around Manston, you will find that 75% of it is full of seawater. There aren’t enough people living near enough Manston for it to succeed.
To be a successful passenger airport, you don’t need night flights, you need passengers.]
Roads like the Thanet Way are pretty good but potential customers from South East London probably think they are worse than they are. So make it easy. A Manston Parkway station and dedicated high-speed railway –a “Manston Express?” – would make a huge difference. The Regional Growth Fund allocated some welcome cash for a track upgrade. For a fraction of the cost of a Boris Island or Foster’s Grain proposal, upgraded links would transform Manston’s image. It would be great to see politicians “getting it” in 2012.
[Manston airport and KCC applied to the Regional Growth Fund for £10 million to build a Parkway station (and a £600,000 sweetener to persuade KLM to use the airport). They were turned down flat. The government decided that the forecast number of passengers did not justify a station, and in any case the spur to Manston airport would slow down the trains on the recently upgraded line to Ramsgate.]
But the sad truth at the moment is that investors – and other scheduled operators – will be wary of committing to a terminal that keeps suffering setbacks.
The Business Blog, Trevor Sturgess 28th Dec 2011