The Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones has become firmly involved with discussions on the future of Cardiff Airport, and is considering setting up a group to discuss the matter.
He is critical of the current owners of Cardiff Airport, the Spanish company Abertis, and has asked them to either invest in the future of Cardiff Airport, or sell.
There was a plan for an investment of £26.5 million in the Airport, with the Welsh Government contributing £5 million. However, due to the downturn and resulting decline in passenger numbers at Cardiff, Abertis has confirmed that it is no longer taking forward an investment on that scale.
The First Minister confirmed that the investment offer of £5 million still stood, and said: “It still stands [offer], but there would need to be the £21m invested by the owners in order for us to release it.
“We had a package in place and they didn’t carry it through with the investment from their end. It is now a matter for the present owners.
“I want Cardiff to be a world class airport and I want it to be catching up and overtaking Bristol in years to come, but it is important that we recognise the airport’s weaknesses in order that we can move forward.
“There are very strong views that have been put to me by members of the public and the question for us is what do we do about it.
“I have a strong interest in the airport so my officials are now looking to bring together a group consisting of local government, the airport itself and business membership organisations like the CBI, which I am going to chair personally.”
On the existing team at Cardiff airport, which is headed by managing director Patrick Duffy, he said: “I have no issues with the existing management, but of course the money is held elsewhere. So they cannot take investment decisions.
Mr Jones said: “The thing I am getting is that passenger numbers [falling] is the way things are going at regional airports so there is no ambition to improve the product.
“However, if Abertis were to work with us and show a bit more ambition than we would be happy and we would have no problem with that. But for me what I would like to see is the airport improving and getting more passengers and airlines in. We will work with them if there is an ambition to do that.”
Mr Jones said had seen several assessments on the potential cost of acquiring Cardiff Airport, which were not as high as the stated valuation in Abertis’ accounts of around £150m.
On potential bidders for Cardiff, the First Minister said: “There are people out there who see investing in an airport as exceptionally worthwhile business. That is the impression we have had from the potential buyers.
“If Abertis aren’t able to come up with the capital, then my message is if they are prepared to sell it for a reasonable price, then let’s shake hands and move on and give somebody else the chance to come up the capital to develop the airport.
“What we cannot have is where nothing happens and there is no investment.”
However, he confirmed that his Government would hold a neutral position if a bidder [s] emerge.
Mr Jones said: “There is more than one [interested party] and it is serious interest. It is a matter for those that have shown interest to come forward and negotiate with Abertis.”
He added: “I would not want to give the impression that somehow we had a preferred bidder, or indeed that we have money in our back pocket so that we could pay for the airport… I think that would have an effect on the price.”
He said that he didn’t believe that Abertis would effectively bury its head in the sand and just continue to sweat an asset, which is still profitable with current earnings of around £1.5m
“It is not the impression I am get from them,” said Mr Jones
He said that his public criticism of the airport was legitimate, because as First Minister he wanted to see it improved and benefiting the wider Welsh economy.He said motorists shouldn’t be charged for dropping passengers off at the airport, or passengers faced with a “bit of a hike” to the terminal itself from car parking areas.
news item brought to you cardiffairportparking.org.uk.