14 OCTOBER 2013

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Article from BTNews 14 OCTOBER 2013

COMMENT: Cornish Calamity

Business Travel News recently reported on the country’s most south westerly county and aviation.  COMMENT featured ‘Crisis for Cornwall’ (BTN 23 September) and the serious consequences with the cancellation of the three times daily Flybe service from Newquay to Gatwick next March.  BTN’s words were earnestly taken up by The Western Morning News, based at Plymouth, the distinguished quality clarion of the region.  ‘Crisis for Cornwall’ was reproduced in full and the newspaper has run a double page highlighting the problem! Well done Western Morning News.

BTN now learns that instead of encouraging airlines back to the former RAF St Mawgan, Cornwall Council proposes to double its unpopular ‘development fee’ for every passenger departure from £5 to £10.  Add that to the Chancellor’s APD of £13 per sector and the cost of visiting Newquay by scheduled air services is £36 before you pay a penny to the carrier.  No airline will be interested.  Will the Scillies route be dropped by Skybus?

Cornwall County Council seems to be living in a different world when it comes to aviation. 

When Flybe proposed the non-stop Gatwick – Newquay route back in 2009 the Council was advised that the consequences for Air South West and Plymouth Airport would be serious.  Air South West (and before that Brymon Airways) successfully operated a linking service from Gatwick, through Plymouth to Newquay. 

The Flybe move played into the hands of Sutton Harbour Plc, owners of Plymouth Airport, whose only interest, clearly, was using the site for housing.  Air South West and Plymouth Airport both closed.  The resurrection of the airport is still possible, no alternative development allowed till 2021.

In 2009 Cornwall Council could have opposed the application but chose not to.  Of course Plymouth (across the border in Devon) and its problems were nothing to do with Cornwall.  Misguided short-term greed won.

The cost of transforming RAF St Mawgan to Newquay-Cornwall Airport has now been put at a colossal £63m, admittedly some of this money came from Europe.  Has anyone noticed the difference?  It is now a CAA approved airport rather than RAF but the same planes land and take off just as safely.  Where did all that money go?

As previously noted the passenger throughput has dropped from 431,000 in 2008 to a predicted 168,000 for 2013.  In the meantime the Airport Director appears to have his salary doubled from £60k to £120k.  We seem to live in an age of civil service bonus for bonus sake.  Where has the honour of doing a job and doing it well gone?

The airport management is now thought to be seeking PSO (public service obligation) financial assistance from the Department for Transport.  It is a good idea but a long-term project, the DfT never before having to deal with EU bureaucracy on this particular matter.  The EU is not noted for speed of decision.  There are no English PSO routes.  This would be a first.

easyJet has decided that Cornwall is only worthwhile for a few weeks in the peak summer months.  That is their decision, and whilst not the all year round service Cornwall wanted, better than nothing.  Perhaps the approach to easyJet failed to be mounted professionally enough.

Flybe is now under new and, one could argue, more enlightened management.  It is looking for opportunities.  To overturn the Gatwick cancellation looks unlikely.  If the route was marginal with Gatwick, a hitherto seven-destination hub for the airline, a single route at an expensive airport would be both uneconomic and impractical. 

What happens from here?

BTN believes that Newquay-Cornwall Airport should be partially privatised in some sort of partnership form with a fixed subsidy provided by the Council.  Manchester (and Luton) provide comparisons, both successful and run without any management input from the respective council shareholder. 

The London air route from Cornwall needs to be pursued.  All is not lost.  BTN is aware of serious alternatives to Gatwick being worked upon, with better connectivity.  The local MPs need to effectively support any suitable propositions.  Aerohub, the industrial complex at the airport, will not take off without the links.  Cornwall Council needs to rethink its whole policy towards aviation.  And as a first step drop the £5 passenger departure charge.

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