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Thursday 4 April 2013

TPA – Not Understanding Aviation

Fresh from their non-job holder Andrew Allison failing to understand how public transport works in Nottingham – rather better than in any other similarly sized city in the UK – the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) has now taken up whingeing at the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) for stepping in and buying Cardiff Airport. If only they had done a little homework beforehand.

More bore from the second floor

Non-job holder Lee Canning proclaimed that “Last week saw the nationalising of Cardiff International Airport at a cost of £52m to Welsh taxpayers”. Nationalising? What that? If we’re being picky correct here, nationalisation was what it was not, because this was an open sale willingly entered into by both parties, although the airport’s recent history left little choice.

Previous owner Abertis was looking to offload some of its portfolio in order to reduce its debt burden, and under its tenure passenger numbers had been in freefall, from around two million a year in 2007 to half that last year. The airport has had a rail link opened recently and reasonable road access, but while other airports in the UK are seeing passenger number recover, Cardiff is not.

The TPA has homed in on the concerns of Bristol Airport that having Cardiff in public hands could be unfair, although the Cardiff operation is demonstrably arms-length, and having Manchester Airport under public ownership has never prompted complaint from the owners of Liverpool Airport, or indeed the new private ones of Leeds Bradford. Bristol is just grandstanding.

Another airport management to cry foul and simultaneously make itself look foolish is that at Birmingham: to whinge about Cardiff being bought by the WAG when Manchester and East Midlands – both publicly owned – are far closer is just coming it. So is the complaint – another from management at Bristol Airport – that the WAG paid over the odds for Cardiff Airport.

The sale price was £52 million, around a third of the 2007 valuation of £150 million. Not surprisingly, the TPA has not bothered with such tiresome detail as getting a reliable estimate of the business’ current value, and nor has Canning understood that Swiss partner Helvetic withdrawing services is not a “blow” for “the idea of state intervention” (brandish that phrasebook, guys!) but a compelling reason for it.

Abertis’ management of Cardiff Airport was not a success. Providing the WAG purchase meets the criteria for such deals, there is no reason why the site’s fortunes should not improve, and if the whole South Wales area is to attract more investment, it would not be A Good Idea to depend on an airport the other side of the Bristol Channel with a short runway and even poorer access (ie Bristol).

Not that the TPA are interested in the bigger picture. They just kick Governments.

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