Wales

Low-cost airline Vueling to fly Cardiff to Barcelona

Cardiff Airport managers say they are "very encouraged" a low-cost Spanish airline is to start direct flights to Barcelona.

The announcement comes two days before Bmibaby halts services from Cardiff and concerns at falling passenger numbers.

The flights, three times a week, will be Vueling's first direct UK service to Barcelona.

An airport spokesman said: "We continue to work hard on attracting more services."

'Very encouraging'

Vueling's flights will run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

Alex Cruz, chief executive officer of Vueling, said the Cardiff plans had "been on the agenda for some time".

"Cardiff offers convenient transits and an efficient service so we anticipate the route will be popular for leisure travellers looking for convenient city breaks.

"There's also a high student population within easy reach, so overall we are expecting high load factors as passengers will maximise the options provided by our connections service."

Patrick Duffy, managing director of Cardiff Airport said: "It is extremely pleasing to welcome a new airline and a new route to Cardiff Airport.

"In a challenging economic climate it is very encouraging to see an airline consider trading in new markets."

Business Minister Edwina Hart welcomed the announcement as good news for the airport.

"This new route will open up new opportunities to develop and strengthen business and tourism links between Wales and Spain and we are hopeful other new routes will follow."

The announcement comes as Bmibaby, which employs 69 people at Cardiff, prepares to hold its last flight from the airport on Sunday, blaming the economic climate.

The airline is redeploying its two Boeing 737 aircraft to Northern Ireland and the Midlands.

Falling numbers

Bmibaby's withdrawal has prompted concern over the airport's viability and future direction.

Cardiff has lost more passengers over the past three years than any of the other major regional airports in the UK.

Image caption Passenger numbers at Cardiff Airport fell to 1.4m in 2010

According to figures from the Civil Aviation Authority in 2007 it had 2,111,148 and in 2010 it had 1,404,613, a fall of 33%.

While the majority of British airports have suffered drops, no other airport with passenger numbers above a million a year has suffered as big a fall.

In 2010 there was a 200,000 drop in passenger numbers to 1.4m. In 2007, 34% of passengers flew on Bmibaby. That has since fallen to 15%.

Keith Brooks, former chief executive of TBI, which bought Cardiff Airport in 1995, said the drop in passenger numbers sent out a "very bleak signal" for the airport and Wales.

He said every million passengers directly or indirectly produced 1,000 jobs in the local economy.

He said: "If this was a factory closing and we were losing 600, 700, or 1,000 jobs there would be uproar. That's been happening at Cardiff, in a slower basis, but it's been happening."

"An airport is a pretty good barometer of economic activity and what the world thinks of you."

A Cardiff Airport spokesperson said: "The decrease in passenger numbers at Cardiff Airport is a consequence of bmibaby's operations.

"However, other schedule and charter services remain strong and are set for moderate growth in 2011 as the airport continues its comprehensive air service development efforts."

Plaid Cymru's transport spokesperson Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM said the Vueling announcement was good news for the airport, the local area and the Welsh economy.

"The withdrawal of Bmibaby from Cardiff Airport has been a serious cause for concern which makes this new service all the more welcome," he said.

"It is now important that the Welsh government does all in its power to assist Cardiff Airport in ensuring that it has a viable future."

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