Letter to The Telegraph 10.04.2014

Lets throw away another National Asset !!!!

We are a matter of days away from discarding an existing airport of both regional and national importance. In the clear and present crisis over airport capacity one of our least publicised potential treasures will die.
Through her private company Scottish entrepreneur Ann Gloag completed the purchase of Manston Airport in East Kent for a peppercorn £1 plus £350,000 in adjustments from Infratil its former New Zealand owner. In airport terms a relatively trivial price. At the time Ann Gloag was reported as saying……
I am delighted to have purchased Manston Airport …as I believe there is real potential for growth that has not been fully captured….Having worked in the transport industry for over 30 years, I believe I am very well placed to help maximise opportunities for both freight and passengers at Manston.
Yet here we stand after a mere four months from completion with her shock announcement of closure and dismissal of staff against a tight deadline for ‘consultation’ originally set at 45 days which she has already sought to curtail. Frantic last ditch efforts by local MPs found a consortium willing to buy, but they have withdrawn as Ms.Gloag is demanding £8 million. We all know that entrepreneurs by their nature look for the ‘main chance’ but unless her demand to line her pocket with some £7.65 million is met by someone, we are about to lose:
   •     a fully functional airport with the widest runway but also the fourth longest in the country. It already exists and does not need millions spent on it.
   •     a master diversion airfield which is of national importance with an advanced Fire Training School already in situ. When airports in the Thames Valley are shrouded in fog – where do they go? – Manston. It has the space to cope. During the Cold War there were plans to land squadrons of C-5 Galaxy aircraft with tanks and personnel. It was a diversion airfield for the Space Shuttle, and just recently was used with consummate ease by British Airways for crew training on the Airbus A380 -the largest airliner on the planet, and by the giant Antonov An-124 the world’s highest gross weight production cargo aeroplane.
   •     an increasingly important freight location. Manston already has unique meat and vegetable handling storage and inspection facilities. The airport has an estimated capacity to handle 100,000 tons. When Saudia Air Cargo which launched its service to Manston only last September using its 747s to bring in fresh produce and flowers it stated that Manston was its ideal airport of choice. In the light of uncertainty over closure Saudia withdrew four days ago.
   •     KLM’s twice daily City Hopper flights to Schipol cutting East Kent’s business and tourist access to some 130 international destinations. Uncertainty over the future will cause KLM to suspend its service in less than a week from now. Quite apart from the inconvenience to local travellers the loss of potential in tourism from overseas visitors is bound to follow. KLM did report with some pleasure that bookings this year were already up by 60%.
   •     150 jobs at the airfield itself plus loss to the wider business community locally, including hotels, catering, and engineering and maintenance. Bell Helicopters new Heli-Charter and Customer Service Facility in the United Kingdom opened at Manston only last year, and Summit Aviation’s jet engine repair.and servicing facility are likely to be handicapped by closure. T.G. Aviation provides a flying training school and on site aircraft handling services. Polar Helicopters training school and Sky Helicopter Charter will be prejudiced by a closure including air traffic control. Whether the promised Channel Air Sea Rescue service to have been provided by Bristow Helicopters will still go ahead is not clear.
Southend Airport is a success story and shows what enterprise can achieve for a regional airport despite the proximity of Stansted. The bitter irony is that Ann Gloag of Stagecoach backed that enterprise. Having acquired Manston just months ago and after the assurances she gave about developing Manston’s future, it comes as a bitter blow that her team seems hell bent on closing Manston down with such indecent haste. Nothing was said at that time about Manson’s future under thousands of houses, which of course could not then compete with Southend, but a cynic might come to that conclusion. Where the inhabitants of these dwellings will find employment in the unemployment blackspot of the Thanet area is an unanswerable mystery. It is also an irony that Prestwick Airport was also sold for £1 by the same firm which sold Manston, although in the case of Prestwick the Scottish Government was astute enough to buy it to protect jobs and the wider economy. Perhaps the deepest irony of all is that Prestwick was sold to Infratil in 2001 for £33 million by guess who?…..Stagecoach!
Lack of awareness in the corridors of power and apathy is likely to cause us to sleepwalk into losing the airport at Manston. Be quite clear – when it’s gone it will be gone forever.
If you have the slightest doubt that what is happening by default is not good for the South East let alone our country JOIN THE PETITION being mounted by our MPs and even at this late stage at least lift a finger to stop the closure.
Geoffrey Illsley, Trees, The Street, Worth, Deal, CT140BY
Committee Member – “Why Not Manston?” (www.whynotmanston.org)
4th April, 2014
Spread the word - save the airport