Cardiff Airport: Tory plans to reimburse £52m paid for airport

Cardiff airport
Image caption The Welsh government agreed a deal to buy the airport after a slump in passenger numbers

Conservatives have set out plans to reimburse taxpayers for the £52m the Welsh government paid for Cardiff Airport.

The Tory document, A Blueprint for Cardiff Airport, envisages growth in passengers and routes, and proposals to sell it back to the private sector.

The Welsh government agreed a deal to buy the troubled airport in March after a slump in passenger numbers.

Labour said it had the right structure for the airport to move forward.

Passenger numbers at Cardiff fell below the one million mark for the first time in recent years, it was revealed in April.

The latest provisional figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) show 994,885 people flew from the Welsh capital's airport in the year to March, which is down 15%.

Meanwhile, nearby competitor Bristol Airport saw almost 6m passengers in the last 12 months, including a large number from Wales.

The Conservatives' plan aims to more than double the airport's value, sell it back to the private sector and divide the profits between investment in infrastructure around the airport and return the original investment and more to Welsh taxpayers.

Its blueprint includes the following commitments:

  • Establish a new airlines' director to attract new carriers
  • Devolve air passenger duty to Wales to lower rates to improve competitiveness
  • Improve the Welsh marketing campaign to showcase Wales to emerging markets
  • Improve public transport links to Cardiff Airport and plan for longer-term investment in road infrastructure
  • Enhance freight transfers through Cardiff by offering competitive rates to local, regional and international businesses.

Tory transport spokesman Byron Davies said the party was setting out plans to "return the investment that every taxpayer in Wales made in Cardiff Airport when Labour ministers decided to buy it".

He added: "We believe that after a period of revitalisation, investment and growth, that Cardiff Airport should be sold as a vibrant economic hub and that every taxpayer should get their £38.50 dividend back and share in the proceeds of growth.

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Media captionPaul Kehoe, the chief executive of Birmingham Airport and an ex-director of Cardiff Airport gave his verdict on what Cardiff needs to do to the Wales Report

"Cardiff Airport should be seen as Wales' gateway to the world, but unfortunately the airport is suffering from neglect and a lack of leadership and vision."

Mr Davies said the Welsh Conservatives opposed the Welsh government's decision to "nationalise" the airport but now it was in public hands, "we need to make it a success".

"We have an ambitious plan to increase the airport's value by attracting new airlines and routes, improving public transport links and using air passenger duty as a lever to make rates at Cardiff Airport more competitive," he added.

A Welsh government spokesperson said it did not rule out future changes to the way the airport was managed.

"It has always been our intention for the airport to be successful as possible in a highly competitive industry, managed at arm's length from government on a commercial for-profit basis," said the spokesperson.

'Welcome u-turn'

"Whilst we do not rule out future changes to the operational model, we are satisfied that we have the right structure in place to enable the airport to move forward with confidence as a major piece of economic infrastructure for Wales and a high-quality facility for passengers.

"While the airport actively engages with international carriers with the aim of increasing both passenger numbers and freight capacity, we continue to explore options for improved infrastructure links to the airport site and have already asked the Silk Commission for the devolution of air passenger duty to Wales."

Labour AM Vaughan Gething claimed that the Welsh Tory assembly group leader was "finally making this welcome u-turn and backing the Welsh Labour government's interventionist approach".

"The Welsh Conservatives have been swimming against a wave of public opinion so it's no surprise to see them change tack and finally admit they've got it wrong," said Mr Gething.

"We welcome the fact the Welsh Tories have joined the Welsh Labour government in calling for the devolution of Air Passenger Duty. We now look forward to them stating publicly what representations they've made to the prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer on this issue."

Meanwhile, a rival airport chief has told BBC Wales that the only way the Welsh public will make a profit on the airport is to sell it back to the private sector.

Paul Kehoe, the chief executive of Birmingham Airport and a former director of Cardiff Airport, said Cardiff could be turned around but only if the Welsh government ran it at arm's length.

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