Monday, 22 July 2019

Vanity headlines

If there’s one thing that the Tories in the Assembly really like, it’s grabbing a dramatic headline about an alleged waste of money by the Labour Government.  And if there’s one thing that they avoid like the plague, it’s proposing constructive and helpful alternatives.  Their criticism last week of the expenditure by the Welsh Government on Cardiff Airport was a case in point.  Demanding that it be sold off unless it makes a profit (and if it ever did, I have no doubt that they’d demand that it also be sold off in order for that profit to end up in private rather than state hands) would take us back to where we were before the government bought the airport in the first place – it was failing, not least because it was suffering a serious lack of investment.  What they have not told us is what sort of future they see for the airport, although they leave the clear impression that they’d rather see it return to decline and failure in private hands than stand a chance of success following a reversal of the lack of private investment by the state.
The realities of geography don’t favour some of the wilder dreams of supporters of expanding the airport.  The catchment area for which Cardiff is the best and closest airport isn’t as large as that of its competitors – basically, it’s limited to Glamorgan and most of Dyfed.  Outside that area, Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool are all potential – and in most cases, closer or more accessible – alternatives.  The idea that it can ever truly become an international airport serving the whole of Wales is a fantasy.  Expecting to be able to run a commercially-viable full range of international scheduled flights is unrealistic unless either the total number of passengers can be increased significantly (which would surely be contrary to environmental policy) or else passengers can be diverted from other airports which are currently more easily accessible to them.  If Cardiff airport did not exist, would anyone seriously suggest trying to establish a full international airport at that location as a commercial enterprise?  I doubt it.
At the other extreme, there are those who would argue that air travel is so damaging that we should be deliberately restricting flying, and that far from increasing capacity and competition we should be seeking to reduce capacity.  I find it difficult to imagine such a scenario gaining popular support at present, but under such conditions it would hard to see a future for Cardiff Airport at all. 
In between those options, the likeliest – almost by default – future for the airport is one based on slow organic growth, where the extent of that growth depends more on population changes and increasing affluence and is matched with appropriate investment in increased capacity, than on proactive government measures to promote and expand the airport at the expense of its competitors.  I find it hard to believe that the Tories actually want to see the airport fail and close (they certainly are never going to come out and say that), and maybe they even see its future in much the same way that I do.  What they fail to explain, however, is why private ownership would make that more likely to succeed than state ownership, when actual past experience demonstrates precisely the opposite.  Still, why let mere facts spoil a good headline?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1,500,000 passengers used Cardiff Airport last year, and it made a loss of £6.6m.

As expected, the Welsh branch of the Conservative and Unionist Party was up in arms. "Tens of millions of pounds worth of taxpayers' money have been wasted by the Welsh Labour government, and on purchasing an airport which almost looks like a vanity project" said an outraged Darren Millar.

Yet, this morning on Conservative Home, we learnt that a mere 2,807 passengers used the St Helena Airport during the first six months of 2019. St Helena is of course one of the last outposts of Empire in the South Atlantic, and the present Tory government, we also learnt, has ploughed £285m into this madcap scheme.

Perhaps Darren Millar should look again at his use of the term 'vanity project'.