Further observations on the Avia viability report on Manston Airport

Next week RiverOak are due to publish their full rebuttal of the Avia report following their interim response last week (see previous post). We are expecting it to be both rigorous and robust.

From information we have gleaned it seems that the majority of Councillors remain completely onside with retaining the airport. However, they are currently conflicted because, if they accept the result of the recent viability report at face value, they would find it difficult to justify including the airport in the emerging local plan.

Consequently we were pleased to learn that all Councillors will have the opportunity to quiz Avia in person next week.  By asking pertinent questions we hope that they will be able to draw their own, independent conclusions as to whether or not the report is a factual and accurate representation of the viability of Manston Airport.

SuMA’s own analysis of the document seems to highlight many omissions and inconsistencies that render the report unreliable at best. Here are some of our thoughts:

1. FAILURE TO COVER THE BRIEF
In the Viability report brief from Thanet District Council, it states:

“Work should specifically cover:

The national and international aviation market context for, and the economic potential for, a range of Airport activities at the site, in particular freight and passenger operations, and including short haul aircraft and private aviation.

An assessment of all available markets for ancillary airport operations which could take place at the airport.”

This seems to suggest they should be considering the viability of an airport that provides various airport activities, along the lines of what RiverOak have previously discussed in general terms, in public. Therefore, a mixture of freight, passenger, short haul, private aviation, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO), tear-down, storage, flight training and possibly other connected activities such as heritage and airport-related manufacturing or services alongside (possibly units rented or sold to other parties). It could even consider selling off some of the available land to make the main area viable – as it says, it should consider ALL options.

All of that should be considered together to decide if an airport was viable.

What Avia Solutions have provided is development solutions:

  1. Purely Cargo
  2. Purely Passenger (regional)
  3. If LHR3 is created
  4. If LGW2 is created
  5. If both LHR3 and LGW2 is created
  6. If neither are built

Thus there is no scenario to fully mix the activities above, and as the brief suggests.

There is no mention of the short-term possibility to help the role of LHR/LGW in the short term while any new runway/s is/are built, and subsequently either a take up of remaining capacity or a new role or variety of roles.

Indeed there must be other variations to include LHR/LGW, or both, using Manston as a supplementary airport to encourage trade in the shorter term, then being able to transfer or re-distribute to their redevelopment later on. It might not be viable, or achievable, but where is the evidence that it has been considered?

How, therefore can the report be viewed as fulfilling the brief?

2. EVIDENCE FROM THE INDUSTRY
Do Avia really consider that a major passenger or freight operator would make a firm commitment to use Manston, even if in confidence for an airport that is not yet open, nor has decided on operating charges?

Surely it would take only one major operator of either to make a complete difference to the viability findings, but you have to talk to the right operator and for them be willing to possibly divulge commercially sensitive information.

3. GRANTS
Has the possibility of regional grants, such as the Regional Air Connectivity Fund been considered?
If so, where is the evidence they would not be achievable?

4. RAIL CONNECTIONS
Why is the only mention of Thanet Parkway railway station under the comments by Sir Roger Gale and Mr Paul Barber?

The report suggests on page 21 that London to Manston (assumed as Ramsgate) is scheduled to be 75 to 105 minutes from Central London.

Why the wide discrepancy and why is Manston being discussed in terms of “Central London” when others are in terms of their quickest station?

In the Thanet Parkway Draft Business Case report 2014 it mentions that the improvements to line speeds (in two phases) will reduce journey times to “less than one hour” to Stratford International from Ramsgate by 2018/2019 even without the Parkway Station (page 5).

As a best case scenario it suggests the Thanet to London Stratford could come in at 59 minutes on page 7. The current figures it quotes are: “The journey time from Ramsgate to Canterbury West is 20 minutes, to Ashford is 36 minutes, to Stratford is 1 hour 09 minutes and to St Pancras is 1 hour 16 minutes.

5. ROAD CONNECTIONS
The Avia report makes no mention of road access, which seems strange when even the Airports Commission Final report makes many references to this transport type. However the Commission decided to use the suggestion of distance from populous being a factor, clearly this was negated by the “Time vs Distance” challenge back in May 2014.

6. CATCHMENT AREAS AND PASSENGER NUMBERS
In the report, on page 20, it describes that they have “defined an area of eastern Kent as Manston’s core catchment area…“.

This obviously assumes that the business passenger model would be similar to that of Southend, without any attempt to specify how a catchment area could be increased, or any suggestion of how the market could be different to Southend.

Back on page 10, the report seems to suggest that Manston would only be likely to attract similar levels of passenger and freight operations to its historic performance.

This again seems to declare that the report makes no suggestions or considerations of how business is likely to be different, which appears very narrow minded.

This is especially interesting when considering such operations as KLM were only able to operate for a year before being forced to withdraw from the airport, thus not being able to show longer term projections of passengers and didn’t even have the benefit of a full summer season.

7. CARGO ACTIVITY AND SURROUNDING BUSINESS PARKS
It seems strange that, on page 15, it discusses possible causes for increased activity of cargo on the site.
It seems to ignore the fact that right next door to the airport is a business park, a joint holding by Kent County Council and Thanet District Council.

It appears that the Avia report makes no mention of the effect of a major, or a small number of, businesses being opened on that site which could affect air cargo requirements.

8. ENTERPRISE ZONE STATUS
The Avia report makes no mention of a possible Enterprise Zone as was suggested back in August/September 2015. This was an initial suggestion of a zone to include Ramsgate Port and the Manston Business Park, and although it was not dependent on the re-use of the airport, it said
“There would be potential synergies between an Airport use (especially freight) and the proposed logistics hub/EZ. The airfield, could still host aircraft service, accommodate supply chain support for maintenance and other activities, crew training and aircraft recycling facilities. These activities would provide jobs and training and could also benefit from an EZ designation.”

It is therefore interesting that the report decided to exclude suggestions of how any future Enterprise Zone could affect the business case for Manston.

9. POTENTIAL EFFECT OF BREXIT ON FREIGHT TRAFFIC
There are several mentions of Brexit in the report including a negative suggestion, on page 15, which says that, in the event of Brexit, it will be less likely that a major, multinational manufacturer might locate near to Manston.

However, a recent report in Air Cargo Weekly shows that cargo volumes at Heathrow have actually increased by just under 6% in September.

Clearly Avia were not party to this information, or it was only available after the report was finalised. It is clear, therefore, that there could well be longer term and wider advantages to Brexit, which would have implications for an airport at Manston, this should have been accounted for as a possibility in the report.

10. CHECK-IN TIMES
Travel to an airport, including possible delays are undoubtedly key considerations for customers, but so too are such delays as parking and check-in times.

Although Manston previously had a 30 minute check-in time which gave it an obvious advantage, we wouldn’t assume that these could be matched.

However, there is the possibility of a far quicker check-in time frame being used by Manston, to give it a competitive advantage, and also could extend the area from which population would use the airport.

References:

We hope and expect that the Councillors thoroughly probe the authors of this report and take this opportunity to ask incisive and conclusive questions.

Couple this fact finding mission with RiverOak’s imminent report and we can’t see why the Councillors should not have the confidence to go ahead and include the airport in the forthcoming local plan.

If you haven’t read it yet the final report can be found here –
http://www.supportmanstonairport.org/manston-airport-viabi…/

 

We propose sending the observations above to all the Thanet District Councillors in case they are of use in their meeting with Avia Solutions next week.  If you have any further observations you would like us to pass on to them, anonymously if required, please contact us quickly either by our Facebook page, comments here or via email at [email protected] 

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