Carwyn Jones // Former First Minister for Wales
In the first of his monthly article series, Carwyn Jones explores the role and importance of Cardiff Airport and its influence on the Welsh economy. The article also discusses the Welsh government’s involvement with the airport and its future plans.
“Does Wales have an International Airport?”
When I was First Minister I was often asked that question by potential investors. If the answer had been “no” then the impression would have been given that Wales was remote and inaccessible. Having Cardiff Airport was a huge strength. It didn’t matter to people abroad that the airport was not much used by people from the north and middle of Wales. What mattered was that we had it.
The airport is going from strength to strength. We all remember though that it wasn’t always this way. At the start of 2013 the airport was in a difficult place. Passenger numbers were dropping and there was little investment in its infrastructure. Attempts by us in Welsh Government to work with the airport hadn’t taken us very far.
Cardiff Airport was owned by a Catalan company who owned other airports and had other business interests. In the meetings that I had with them it seemed clear to me that they accepted that the airport would close and they had no interest in selling to another private buyer.
It had never been our intention to buy the airport but, out of the blue, they offered to sell to us. For some reason, selling to a government was more acceptable than a private sale. The asking price was wholly unrealistic but eventually, after an independent evaluation, we bought it.
It was important that Cardiff Airport operated at arm’s length from government and was run by people who had experience in the field. It was also never my intention that the airport company should be wholly owned by Welsh Government in the longer term but that private investors would be brought on board at the right time, although with the Government keeping a controlling interest.
Six years on and the airport is a great success. Much of it is due to Roger Lewis, the Chair, who brought Qatar Airways on board, and Debra Barber the Chief Executive. Under their leadership we’ve not just seen daily flights to one of the world’s great hub airports in Doha, but growth with Flybe (despite recent difficulties), Ryanair and the holiday charters. Passenger numbers are up more than 50% and importantly the arrival of Qatar has stimulated the growth of cargo traffic from a base of almost nothing.
Cardiff Airport’s master-plan foresees the building of a hotel, multi-storey car park and new terminal by 2030, giving Wales’ capital the airport it needs and deserves. In the future, the increased footfall will help to attract more shops and revenue. Attracting flights to the US and more European destinations will also need to be explored but work is also underway to improve travel links to the airport with possible light rail connections from Rhoose in the future.
Exciting times ahead, and importantly, we can keep on answering the question posed at the start of this article with a resounding “yes”.