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.

4 comments

  • Paul Sanderson

    There is more to the revenue stream of an airport than the headline figures, i.e. profit and loss. Obviously Newquay airport employs people and the loss of their jobs would not be welcome, but also the airport is an enabler allowing people with businesses in the county (and tourists) to visit and people to live in the county to work elsewhere (both you and I know a few in Porthleven who use Newquay a lot). The activity on the airfield also generates subsidiary work, there will be highly qualified aircraft engineering companies along with support industries.
    Airfields have a history across the country of getting ideas above their station and trying to turn themselves into regional hubs, Newquay seems to have fallen foul of this and has been trying to grow too quickly. For a remote country such as Cornwall an airport is essential and council involvement (as long as it is well managed) is a good thing. Often it is red tape that kills an airfield (sometimes red tape that is unnecessary or due to gold plated legislation). Maybe a review of some of the more successful regional airfields could be undertaken to see were the profit is and how best to maximise it while minimising the burden on the airfield, the resident businesses and the users.
    Of course what we don’t want is the airfield to close, even without the recently announced changes to planning laws it would be likely that the airport changed into a housing development.

    What happened to democracy in this council? We vote for the councillors not the cabinet – they are public servants and there because we put them there and they should be reminded of that…

  • Dave McCarron

    Here here, how short sighted looking at profit/loss and not at the wider economic benefit to the county. I thought it was just announced as an enterprise zone. One problem is airline passenger duty, the government needs to support regional airports as they are crucial for counties like Cornwall, this topic requires further public debate rather than a closed door decision or discussion. Personally closure of the airport would have a massive impact on my ability to work in Cornwall unless of course someone pays for high speed train services to London.

  • Cllr Andrew Wallis

    No one is saying closing the airport, but looking at other options due to the high subsidy this venture receives from the local tax payer.

    I agree, this subject should be decided in open debate, but I doubt it from my experience. The Airport development panel was changed to a working group ( no public access).

    As for the Government, they have played a large part in killing off regional airports with the high taxation for using flights from them.

  • Anonymous

    £3.6m subsidy for 200,000 passengers a year. That's an £18 subsidy every time a passenger uses the airport. It's got to stop. If airport users value the service so much, they should be asked to pay an extra £18 per trip.

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