October 3, 2023

News Cymru

Two sides to every headline

Cardiff Airport – Lack of Ambition & Incompetence

Wales Online carried an article about Cardiff Airport back in March 2021.

The article detailed the Welsh government’s ongoing involvement in the airport, it’s continued bail outs of the airport and the Welsh Government’s refusal to disclose the accounts of the airport.

Cardiff Airport Bailouts

My position is this, if a business or organisation is accepting money from taxpayers, then the taxpayers must have the right to see where their money is going and why.

A bank would never be expected to give money to a business without seeing the numbers, the expectations of taxpayers should be no different.

The Politicians

For members of the Welsh government, specifically Lee Waters to say “it would not be suitable to publish commercial matters” shows there is a complete disconnect between how government invests money and how the rest of us spend money.

Lee Waters appears to be blissfully unaware of where the money for Cardiff Airport is coming from.

The fact that Lee Waters thinks it is optional as to whether investors should know where their money is going is astounding.

In his bio it states he has “arms length” responsibility for Cardiff Airport and he is also the deputy minister for Climate Change.

This leaves me wondering if Lee Waters has really any interest in seeing Cardiff Airport work at anything other than subsistence level.

The questions being put to Lee Waters in the Wales Online article are by Darren Miller, MS.

I am fully behind Darren Miller’s position ie his outrage at taxpayers money being invested in a commercial enterprise with said “commercial enterprise” refusing to disclose its accounts. Again, I 100% agree.

However what I would like to see from Darren Miller, is his acknowledgement that Cardiff Airport has the potential to be incredibly successful and a power house of development for Wales.

Instead he refers to the airport as an “Albatross” around the necks of Welsh taxpayers.

I see no reason why Cardiff Airport can not be a profit generating centre for the Welsh government, however the “supporters” of Cardiff Airport in the Welsh government seem to think it is a liability, either because it loses money (Darren Miller) or because it needs taxpayers money to survive (Lee Waters).

Neither of these positions do I believe are remotely true.

Lee Waters claims the airport is “doing well”, the passenger numbers have increase by 50%.

As of 2019, Cardiff passenger numbers had reached 1.6 million. For this to be a 50% increase, Waters must be comparing to 2014 when passenger numbers were 1 million.

Sounds good but how has Cardiff’s Airport nearest competitor done ie Bristol Airport?

In 2014, Bristol Airport had 6.3 million passengers (for anyone that has tried to access Bristol Airport from the M5 you will know how impressive this number is).

In 2019, this number had risen to 8.2 million. In short Bristol Airport has grown by the entire annual traffic volume of Cardiff Airport in five years.

Perhaps Bristol is an outlier, what about Luton Airport?

Luton 2014 10.4 million
Luton 2019 18.2 million

In short, airline passenger traffic has ballooned in the five years from 2014 to 2019 and yet Cardiff Airport is still below its peak year of 2.1 million passengers in 2007, yet Bristol and Luton passenger numbers are almost double their 2007 numbers.

Given the success of these other airports over the past 12 years, given the bailouts that Cardiff Airport “needs”, the only conclusion I can come to is that Cardiff Airport is being completely and totally mismanaged.

I have tried to fly into Cardiff airport from various European destinations, the fact is, the prices are astronomical. It is no surprise that Cardiff is doing so poorly.

You simply have to try to use Cardiff airport to fly anywhere in Europe to see where the problems are, the issues with Cardiff airport are obvious, only parties who have no interest in seeing Cardiff airport successful could be so willfully blind to the obvious problems.

Lack of Ambition

Spencer Birns is the interim CEO of Cardiff Airport. His bio says

“In 2010 he assumed responsibilities for all Commercial and Aero income for the airport and was elevated to the Board as Commercial Director in 2013. Following 5 years of strong successful growth for airport including promotion to Chief Commercial Officer in 2019.”


Perhaps this is the perfect illustration of the problem at Cardiff Airport.

In a time (2010-2019) where competitor airports have seen their passengers numbers almost double, Cardiff passenger numbers are effectively flat.

And yet the board of Cardiff Airport has seen fit to appoint the person responsible for this disastrous performance as “Commercial Director” and further, is currently acting CEO. This seems like a stunning decision, for all the wrong reasons.

Cardiff Airport Board

If we look at the Board of Cardiff airport in general, it has six members. Four are accountants, one specialises in compliance and one has experience in retail.

This type of makeup, again, is absolutely no surprise. Given the dire performance of the airport over the past ten years, being told that the majority of the board are accountants makes complete sense.

If the board of Cardiff Airport continues with the same bias towards accountants rather than sales people, the airport is doomed.

The Way Out

The Welsh government could auction off the concession to run the passenger side of the airport for a period of 10 years.

Yes 10 years is a very short time, yes this is going to reduce the amount of money that the auction will bring but at this stage, these are small problems.

The first priority is to establish passengers numbers where they should be ie double what they were in 2007. The second priority is to stop the need for bailouts from Welsh taxpayers. (Welsh taxpayers should be receiving cheques from from Cardiff Airport in the form of a dividend).

Profits and passengers will be solved together.

The Welsh nation just needs the Airport to be run competently. It is the closest airport for majority of the Welsh population. The majority of us will use it if the prices are services are remotely competitive, there is no reason the airport cannot be successful.

However, if things continue as they are I can see there being a another ten years of bailouts with the airport finally closing.

This would be a complete travesty.

But perhaps this is the plan, perhaps there are parties who do not want to see Wales with a vibrant and successful international airport…….

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