An Open Letter from Gary Easton
My name is Gary Easton and I worked for Air Atlanta Icelandic and Eujet at Manston. I worked for Air Atlanta for seven years running the Operationsat Manston plus M.O.D and Hajj contracts, stationed mainly in the Middle East. I then moved to Eujet in June 2004, initially as station manager for twomonths in Lisbon on a ACMI contract with Air Luxor and then to Manston for the start of Operations in early September as Duty Manager. I would like to offer my knowledge and opinions on both Airlines operations at Manston, which I believe were virtually ignored in the Falcon Report.
AIR ATLANTA ICELANDIC
Air Atlanta moved into MSE in the summer of 1998 and I joined them soon after. They wanted to use MSE as a base for Aircraft beginning and finishing ACMI and Hajj contracts plus parking and carrying out ‘A’ checks. They also set up a company called AVIA Services to carry out maintenance functions for Atlanta and third party Airlines. Atlanta’s involvement in MSE grew rapidly and I can recall as many as seven wide bodied Aircraft parked at MSE for maintenance, interior reconfiguration, cleaning etc. MSE offered competitive Operations for a company like Atlanta.Air Atlanta wanted to build a hanger at MSE large enough to hold a Boeing 747 which was the main Aircraft in the fleet, others included the Lockheed
Tri-Star and Boeing 767/757’s. I saw the plans for this hanger which was to be built on land behind the current car park and would have accessed therunway between TG aviation and the Comet bay. Negotiations had begun to purchase this land. Also Atlanta under AVIA wanted to set up a wheel and brake shop,escape slide shop and avionics shop on the site to complement the excellent interiors shop already established in the old terminal building. This hanger would have allowed Atlanta to do ‘C’ checks on their aircraft which in those days cost aprox $1,000,000 and the aircraft having to go to Hong Kong and China etc
The interiors shop also built a cabin crew training simulator at Thanet Technical College to train budding cabin crew and this was still in operation untilthe recent past. This shows the great community benefits companies at Manston can bring.
Sadly the Air Atlanta could not come to an agreement with MSE management and the hanger fell through. The shops previously mentioned were opened and operated for many years on the Haine Industrial Estate, giving good skilled jobs but they should have been opened at the Airport. Air Atlanta also had a huge parts Warehouse behind Tesco’s on the Manston Rd, which again would have been situated at MSE with a hanger. Air Atlanta also broke and re-cycled at least five wide bodied aircraft at MSE, selling parts to airlines Worldwide as well as servicing their own fleet. After I moved to Eujet, Atlanta moved to a new purpose built warehouse and shop complex on the new industrial park west of Manston. Unfortunately due to the economic down turn, Atlanta moved out of East Kent two or three years ago.
Air Atlanta Operated very successfully at Manston for over ten years, opening maintenance and interior shops in the area and re-cycling aircraft at Manston itself giving the local workforce good well paid jobs and training. These are some of the activities that Riveroak want to re-establish at Manston, Air Atlanta proved this concept worked at Manston and it will work AGAIN with good management and sound investment. Manston has consistently been one of the major freight airports, with a turn round time that other airports could only dream of. For many years MK airlines were the main operator into MSE and people do not realise how much local business a freight airline can bring, I know for fact MK had around 10 rooms booked every night at the then Jarvis Marina Hotel Ramsgate, plus the money spent in the town by the crew.
Cargolux has been the main operator into MSE in recent years, one of the most respected freight airlines in the world, with a modern fleet of 747400’s, belyingthe nonsense I have heard from some quarters that only old aircraft fly into Manston.
Eujet began operations at MSE in early September 2004 and sadly ceased operation in July 2005 with the Airport and Airline going into receivership.
A lot of speculation is spoken about the Eujet operation but I was there from the beginning to the end as Duty Manager and I have a better grasp of the truth than most.
In many ways Eujet was very successful, I have accessed the CAA website and here is the correct figure for passengers, not a figure plucked out of the air which is the modus operandi of Mr Welch and the current Manston Management. The combined passenger figures for 2004 and 2005, give a total of 308,108 people flying from Manston. Now if you take into consideration that before September 2004 there were virtually no passenger flights from MSE and after July 2005 there certainly were none 99.9% of those 308,108 passengers were carried in the ten months of operation by Eujet. So straight away the nonsense that not many passengers flew from Manston with Eujet is shown to be false. Considering that the Fokker100 had only 108 seats it proves that a passenger Operation from Manston Could be viable with the correct aircraft and the right routes. In my opinion Eujet and the Airport failed for following reasons:
1 When Eujet arrived the Manston management didn’t think they needed freight anymore and MK airlines which had been the mainstay of Manston were made to feel second best, I know this, as I had a good working relationship with them. Also seeking further freight business was no longer a priority.
2 Eujet put too many aircraft into MSE to start with, instead of starting with say 2 or 3 aircraft and building up, all 5 aircraft were put into Manston. Eujet was an ACMI company like Air Atlanta ( basically flying for other airlines when they need extra capacity in the medium to short term) and had they carried on with this in the short term, instead of putting all the eggs in the Manston basket, I think that would have been a better way forward.
Most aircraft are leased and if you have 5 aircraft sitting on the ramp at MSE, you have to find destinations. Here is an example of what I mean, starting in May we were doing 3 flights a week to Faro, a popular destination, now on average we were get aprox 50-60 pax on each flt, as I said the aircraft had 108 seats so short of the 75% plus capacity that is ideal. Had we only operated 2 flights a week, we would not have lost any passengers and both flights would have been over 75% of capacity, so you might ask why not operate 2 flights instead of 3, well as I have said you have to fly these aircraft, which have a limited range somewhere, so the more popular routes were flown too often. In short we had too many aircraft, with limited range, which in consequence diminished our route options.
3 The Fokker 100 although a good commuter aircraft was not the aircraft needed for Manston, its range was limited and it had a low pax capacity of 108 seats
We struggled to reach Faro with a good pax load and a headwind, I can recall taking off the catering to lose weight due to the fuel demand. Also we weredenied Operating to the winter sun destinations such as the Canary Islands and Malta etc which are vital for an Airline. If an Airline comes into Manston with a couple of 737’s and flies the popular routes, then passenger flights will definatly work as has been proven by the Eujet pax figures. Again I have an instance that proves the viability of using the 737 etc in Manston. When due to a Fokker going to Norwich on a check, we chartered a 737 for the Palma Majorca flight. This had a capacity of 139 seats if my memory serves, we sold to that figure and the aircraft departed full, right aircraft, right route. Also I would estimate that 50% of our passengers came from the huge catchment area of south and southeast London, as it was as quick to get to MSE as LGW, with MUCH less hassle and much cheaper car parking.
These are in my opinion the reasons why the full potential of Manston has not been fully realised. Manston has suffered from poor management and a lack of vision
I am 100% sure that with good management and unblinkered vision, Manston will be the beacon of prosperity that all of East Kent want and deserve.
I would like to redress with this open letter some of the shortcomings and omissions of Manston’s success, that I feel were not explored in the Falcon Report.
– Gary Easton