Transport Select Committee hears Manston Airport evidence

The Commons Transport Select Committee has held a second evidence session as part of the smaller airports enquiry today. This session focused on the case of Manston Airport in Kent which was abruptly closed in in March last year after almost 100 years of operation. The airport site is now facing possible proposals of housing and an industrial estate sprawl.

The Committee convened shortly after 16:00 in the Boothroyd Room at Portcullis House after a short delay due to the volume of people wishing to watch the session. Representatives of Thanet District Council and Kent County Council were present. Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale was also in attendance with members of pro-airport groups and partners of RiverOak Investment Corp, the American company who have been working to become Thanet District Council’s indemnity partner to compulsory purchase order (CPO) the airport.

Evidence was first heard from airport directors Pauline Bradley, Alastair Welch and Alan Mackinnon. Pauline Bradley claimed that the financial situation was “worse than expected” and this led to the decision to close the airport after “four months.”  Reasons for the closure ranged from a missed deal with Ryanair to “remote ownership” from previous owners of the airport, Infratil.  Pauline Bradley admitted that Ann Gloag would have a “significant financial interest” in the re-development of the airport despite having allegedly given an 80% share in the airport to Discovery Park and Wynard Park owners Chris Musgrave and Trevor Cartner.

Labour MP Tom Harris asked Pauline Bradley if she could “see why people might look at this and think it looks slightly fishy?” following the fact that “a lot of people are about to get very wealthy on the back of a one pound purchase.” MP Tom Harris also later questioned Paul Carter’s support for the re-development of the site after his council passed a resolution to support the airport just a few months prior.

Claims that the airport are financially viable were swiftly and strongly rebutted by RiverOak who believe the airport would become viable on just “22 flights a week.” After reaching out to numerous carriers, they believe this would be easily realised. RiverOak have also shown there is interest from the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, Airbus, to conduct aircraft maintenance and recycling on the site.

Sir Roger Gale believes he was “lied to” after he told the committee that airport director Ann Gloag told him that she would run the airport for at least two years – the airport was subsequently closed four months later.

Evidence collected during the enquiry will be reported to the House of Commons, and the government will then have 60 days to reply to the Select Committee’s recommendations. The full proceedings can be viewed here, and a full transcript will be available on the parliament website.

Manston Airport has had a proud history serving the nation since 1916 as RAF Manston, seeing service in WW1, WW2 and the Cold War. In 1999 the airport began its more recent life as a civilian passenger and freight airport. The airport was served by double-daily flights to Amsterdam and was a highly regarded cargo hub. Other regular visitors included British Airways for flight training, charter flights and private visitors including the Rolling Stones. The airport also housed several aviation businesses including TG Aviation, a flight school established by Red Arrow Ted Girdler.

Supporters of Manston Airport is an organisation dedicated to the revitalisation and promotion of the Manston Airport site as a local and national aviation asset. With a large runway and uncongested airspace, extensive infrastructure and proximity to Europe, we believe the airport is ideally suited to meet UK aviation demands now and into the future.