Cardiff Airport: The Failure of the Welsh Government To Secure Its Future

Exterior view of Cardiff Airport terminal building.
Photo Credit: Lewis Clarke / Cardiff Airport

LONDON – Cardiff Airport being purchased by the Welsh government has been one of the most split opinions in Wales over the last 7 years, with many feeling the government should not be using public funds to subsidise an airport which is failing to attract new customers and airlines.

Location and Poor Strategy

The main problem the airport faces is also one of its strengths – its location. While the location of the airport would allow it to operate flights later in the evening without major noise pollution problems, its exactly because of this that the airport is failing.

The Welsh government’s decision to purchase Cardiff Airport and upgrade the terminal buildings, while not upgrading the main roads and railway structures leading to the airport, has been a waste of public funds.

The lack of investment in vital infrastructure means that the airport is not as easily accessible as it could be, which could deter potential passengers from using it.

The Welsh government should have invested in upgrading the roads and railways leading to Cardiff Airport in order to make it more user-friendly and increase its chances of attracting more passengers.

With the decision made by the government to no longer spend public funds on upgrading roads like the M4 or building things such as the M4 relief road, despite countless calls from businesses for this to be done, has ultimately brought the airport to its knees.

Once you leave the M4 and are heading to Cardiff airport, you are void of any dual carriageways leasing directly to the airport. Instead, you are on single-lane roads with poor signage and this has caused passengers to get lost.

It was in fact one of the reasons a former employee of WizzAir commented on when asked about the carrier’s decision to pull out of the airport less than 1 year after announcing new routes.

For people in the north and mid Wales, there is almost zero ability to travel across the country with direct, fast and convenient travel to connect them to south Wales.

It instantly removes half of the country from choosing Cardiff Airport as their departure and destination of choice, and rightly so – why would you choose Cardiff when Manchester airport is operating flights around the globe with over 20 different carriers?

It leaves little to no hard decision to choose the airport over travelling to south Wales, even if the drive is, in theory, longer and the flights more expensive.

State-Run Airport Problems

Cardiff Airport has been struggling for years, and many people have wondered why. Part of the problem may be that it is a state-run airport.

We have seen some similar airports in the US that are state-run operate quite well and make a good recovery, so why has Cardiff airport struggled so much?

One theory is that the Welsh government simply doesn’t have the experience or expertise to run an airport effectively. Another possibility is that the airport may not be getting enough financial support from the government.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Cardiff Airport has been struggling to compete with other airports in the UK.

Competition From Bristol a Major Factor

Bristol Airport is set to undergo some major upgrades in the near future, which has led to an increase in demand for travel from the airport. This, in turn, has attracted airlines such as British Airways to launch routes from Bristol.

With all this investment and growth happening at Bristol, it begs the question: how can Cardiff Airport expect to compete?

Cardiff Airport has a lot of ground to make up if it wants to keep pace with its Bristol counterpart. That being said, it is not impossible for Cardiff to make some serious headway.

Increased marketing and investment could help raise awareness of the airport and attract more airlines.

In addition, improving facilities and infrastructure would make the airport more appealing to both passengers and airlines alike.

Ultimately, though, it will be up to Cardiff Airport to prove that it is a viable option for travellers looking to fly into Wales.

Loss of Wizz Air, Major Blow

This is a difficult question to answer. on the one hand, Wizz Air pulling out of Cardiff airport could be seen as a negative sign for the airport’s future plans.

After all, if one of the biggest airlines in operation is leaving, it doesn’t look good for the airport’s chances of continuing to grow and thrive.

However, it is worth noting that there are other major airlines still flying in and out of Cardiff, so it is not as though the airport will be left completely deserted.

In addition, the Welsh government has said that it is committed to supporting the airport and its future plans, so it is possible that this setback will not be enough to derail the airport’s plans entirely. Only time will tell what effect Wizz Air’s departure will have on Cardiff Airport’s future plans.

Wizz Air managing director Marion Geoffroy said: “The challenging macro-economic environment and high operational costs including fuel mean that unfortunately, we are unable to continue operating from Cardiff Airport.”

“We sincerely apologise to our customers in Wales and the south-west of England for the disruption and inconvenience that this will cause.”

“Our priority now is to ensure that all affected customers are contacted directly with clear advice on their options, and to look after our Cardiff-based colleagues and crew.”

Stop Heathrow Demand, Hope For Success

London Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world, and it’s no surprise that almost 60% of welsh travellers would rather drive there than fly from Cardiff airport.

It’s not just the convenience of being able to get to your destination faster, but also the ease of the connectivity and travel options you have, with multiple direct trains, buses and even the M4 and M25 motorway connection all of Heathrow’s terminals easily to eager travellers.

Not to mention the wide variety of shops, restaurants, airlines and destinations all available to people travelling from Wales, and it’s not like Cardiff Airport cannot support such flights or services.

It is more a question of how they can even begin to convince the legacy carriers who offer these services to open a route to an airport with around 2.1 million passengers per year – woeful numbers for any airport, never mind one that is a financial black hole.

The Welsh government has put £52 million into Cardiff airport over the past decade, according to figures released by the Welsh Assembly. The money has been used to improve infrastructure and facilities at the airport, as well as to support marketing campaigns to promote it as a destination.

The investment has helped increase passenger numbers at the airport, which now serves over two million passengers a year. It has also created jobs and boosted economic activity in Wales.

The government says the investment is part of its commitment to make Wales an attractive place to do business and invest. It believes that having a successful airport is vital for the country’s future prosperity.

Cargo Hub Option

Such low passenger numbers when compared to Bristol have begged the question – would Cardiff Airport be better suited to become a cargo hub?

The airport has a unique ability to attract companies like Amazon Prime in opening Prime Air facilities, which would allow Amazon to take a much more dominant role in the southwest, giving it the ability to have quicker and greater access to a larger variety of products to not just wales, but also the South West of England.

While this would be a large undertaking and significant investment, it could pay off in the long run by making Cardiff a hub for air cargo traffic. This could bring more jobs and economic activity to the area, as well as increase connectivity between Wales and the rest of the UK.

Future Of Cardiff Airport

It’s hard to tell what the future is going to look like for Cardiff Airport. On one hand, there is a desire from people in south Wales to want to have an airport just a 30 to 40 minutes drive from them allowing them more options than just Bristol, Heathrow or Birmingham.

However, as we discussed before, the Welsh government are unlikely to be able to make this airport a success without reversing their decision to stop any major road and travel instructor updates.

What we can say for now is that British Airways having a maintenance facility at the airport is likely one of the major reasons there are not louder calls for the Welsh government to sell the land and close it down.

It is hard to see how this airport can ever truly look to compete with the airports surrounding it in the near future, perhaps it would have to take a serious catalogue of errors from Bristol Airport to see any real improvements in travel demand from the Welsh capital’s airport.

By Tomos Howells - Chief Executive Officer 12 Min Read
12 Min Read
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