Cardiff Airport: Carwyn Jones tells AMs 'no concerns' over deal

Cardiff airport
Image caption The airport says it expects 5% - 8% growth during 2013

The Welsh government is close to signing a deal to buy Cardiff Airport with the two sides "not too far apart" on a price, the first minister says.

Carwyn Jones told AMs that checks on the airport's finances had revealed "no concerns" though some experts had told him its commercial future was limited.

Figures this month showed it saw just over a million passengers in 2012, a drop of 16.1% or about 200,000.

Ministers are considering a range of options on how to run the airport.

The airport was hit by the withdrawal of flights by budget airline bmibaby in 2011, but says it expects 5% - 8% growth during 2013.

Just before Christmas, the Welsh government confirmed it wanted to buy Cardiff Airport from the Spanish-owned Abertis group after a slump in passenger numbers from a peak of two million in 2007.

In an update on negotiations on Wednesday, Mr Jones said a deal would be subject to a final price being agreed and various checks and balances being carried out on the finances of the airport, in a process called due diligence.

AMs on the assembly's business and enterprise committee were given more details about the talks that went on behind the scenes and what is likely to happen if the deal goes ahead.

Mr Jones told them: "We are not going to purchase something that is going to cause a problem to the people of Wales and in looking at the due diligence it appears that there are no major problems with the airport."

He also revealed that no final price had been confirmed with the current owners except to say that the two sides were "not too far apart".

Joint venture

The first minister set out a broad timetable of events should the deal be completed.

He said an interim team would be installed to run the airport while the Welsh government considered the best model for its ownership and operation.

The options include leasing it to a private company or entering into some kind of joint venture, possibly even shared ownership.

Once a decision is made on the model, a tendering process would get underway to choose a private sector operator to run the airport on a day-to-day basis.

Mr Jones said the current owners were not interested in a sale at first but changed their minds and approached the Welsh government a month or two before the pre-Christmas announcement.

He also said his initial priority would be getting new routes in and out of the airport, adding that during talks with the airlines they had shown no interest in the quality of road and rail links to the airport.

The first minister was also pressed on his claim that the proposed deal was being done as a way to secure the future of the airport.

In his response, Mr Jones said in talks with the airport owners he was left with the impression that it was in trouble.

He also said that several different sources, including aviation experts, had told him they believed the airport only had a few years left as a commercial operation.

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