Newquay Airport – Up for Sale?
News from Cornwall Council is they are ‘reviewing’ the current position on Newquay Airport. When I say Cornwall Council, I really mean its Cabinet; because most Councillors on the authority have had no say on this subject.
The council in its press statement said it wishes to continue to support the airport, but needs to look at the best option especially in the current economic climate. Sadly, and with too much frequency I and many of my fellow Councillors only learnt of this news by the press statement.
The three options on the table are: The sale, part sale, or entering into a management agreement with someone. The aviation industry is finding it particularly hard in the current economic climate with routes being cut, or worse, airlines disappearing or merging just to stay afloat.
Many will argue as to why a council needs to run an airport. Cornwall Council is not unique in owning and running an airport as many other councils own airports, or have large shares in them.
A council if running a commercial venture like an airport should make sure it makes a profit, or at a minimum, breaks even. Sadly, Newquay Airport does neither. In fact, if it was not for yearly subsidy of £3.6 million out of tax payers money it would have gone to the wall years ago.
It gets worse, as over the last few years passenger numbers have dropped to dangerously low levels. In the period of 2009/10 the yearly passenger numbers stood at 359,578. Now the current predicted passenger numbers for 2011/12 stands at roughly 200,000. This is a huge 45% drop in passengers.
With the passenger number dropping by this percentage this means the current subsidy is not enough to make the airport financially viable, and Cornwall Council will need to find extra money from the budget to make up the short-fall. But where from the budget, and at the expense of which other service?
In the first few months of the newly formed Cornwall Council many Councillors (including me) asked about the airport and if we should have the debate on its future. Every time this question was asked, the answer was we cannot sell it because of the European money we would have to pay back if we sold it. From memory, figures of £20 million were banded around of possible re-payments.
So what has changed two years later? Will we still have to pay back this money (if we ever did), or have things got so bad there is no other option than sell, part sell, or allow someone else run it.
As with most things at Cornwall Council there is more to this decision than the press statement. Hopefully I and my fellow Councillors will find this out before any decision is made.