Night flights are not “make or break” for Manston airport, it will struggle regardless – that’s the claim from Phil Rose of the No Night Flights group, which is campaigning against proposals to introduce scheduled flights between 11pm and 7am from Manston airport.
Mr Rose poured scorn on claims by the district’s Conservative group that ending restrictions would improve the airport’s fortunes. He said:
“It is not make or break. What is make or break for Manston is its location. The reason a series of carriers have pulled out, and the reason Infratil is selling the airport, is because of its location – surrounded on three sides by sea with a much smaller catchment area than other airports.”
Mr Rose points out that not only does the successful London City Airport have no night flights but Prestwick Airport, also owned by Infratil and also up for sale, does. Norwich and Southampton Airports do not have night flights, except in exceptional circumstances. Other regional airports that have night flights include Southend which, despite seeing passenger numbers soar with the arrival of EasyJet this year, runs on average just over 400 night flights a year – 1.5 flights a night – far from the eight which Infratil’s proposals would make possible.
On Thursday Thanet council will vote on whether to support Manston airport’s night-flight policy. The submission was made to the authority last November. The council’s draft response, was brought before the cabinet only last week after it was agreed with amendments by the authority’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
It does not support night flights.
The report, written by the council’s community services manager Madeline Homer, is based on the council-commissioned Parsons Brinckerhoff report. It also includes the results of a 28-day consultation in which residents were asked for their views. Shadow cabinet member, Tory Councillor Martin Wise has accused Labour of being “anti-airport” for supporting a total ban on night flights.
Both sides have accused the other of cherry-picking information from the Parsons-Brinckerhoff report.
Labour claim the council’s report supports the consultants’ view that the airport had underestimated the potential negative impacts of night flying and overestimated the economic benefit. Airport chief executive Charles Buchanan strongly disagrees. Mr Buchanan said the draft response did not recognise a significant element of the Parsons Brinckerhoff report which said “A ban on night time flying would almost certainly prohibit a large number of potential carriers”. He added that the draft response ignored the fact the independent report said the airport’s mitigation programme “goes further than that required by current Government guidance.” The Conservatives agree with Mr Buchanan: the points made in the draft response were not borne out by the consultants’ report.
No Night Flights, unsurprisingly, do not agree. Mr Rose said:
“Mr Buchanan is cherry-picking a few bits that are complimentary and it ignoring the vast majority of the report. The report pointed out that if Manston does not have night flights it does not prevent it from attracting new business. It said that not having night flights would deny it having just three per cent of its freight market. This alone will not decide the airport’s fate.”
Thursday’s vote looks likely to be drawn down party lines, with Labour committed in its election manifesto to opposing night flights. The Conservatives have promised its members a free vote. With Labour holding the leadership of the council only by the support of one of the authority’s two Independent groups, the decision of councillors Ian Driver, John Worrow, Jack Cohen, Tom King and Bob Grove would appear to be crucial.
thisiskent 18th May 2012