Can Viable's plans really be credible?
AVIATION is the most dynamic of all the transport sectors. It has a remarkable track record of entrepreneurial ventures debunking the cautions of "conventional wisdom". Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair, EasyJet, Flybe and our very own Brymon being classic success stories, yet with the skeletons of Freddie Laker's failed Skytrain, People Express, Go, Zoom, Air Wales and Air South West still rattling in the wings. So, are Viable Group's risky plans for Plymouth City Airport credible? Who can say?
What we can say is that the proposals present a truly awesome challenge. The purchase (ahead of any revenue streams) of both Sutton Harbour Holdings' leasehold interest and the city council's freehold of the 118-acre airport site. Buying out of the various businesses providing employment at the Airport Business Centre and acquisition of its additional 18 acres from the Una Group; building of one of the largest embankments since the construction of the motorway network, still only to achieve a minimal eastward runway extension; provision (for CAA licensing) of Air Traffic Control, fire cover and terminal staffing; compliance with the city council's repeated undertakings to local residents group that the site will never be a full time heliport. Establishment of a new airline; purchase of landing slots at Stansted, Manchester and Dublin; leasing of aircraft, employment of crews, depositing of the necessary £1m cash bond with the CAA; setting up ticketing, marketing and sales infrastructure, insurance and operating a field still vulnerable to service interruption due to its nationally infamous exposure to fog.
And is it not certain that the Balfour Beatty Group (owners of Exeter Airport) and, indeed, the European Commission would vigorously contest the provision of any "State Aid" for Plymouth's airport? Surely so.
37,000 worthy people have signed the petition, but do more than one per cent of that number represent the likely regular users of the airport? 37,000 people might well sign a petition to keep our post offices open, but that would be equally fanciful.
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Maybe Viable have some magic formula to make all of this work, but for my money I would simply engage in a mature and rationale stakeholder discussion with Balfour Beatty Group. The intention being to persuade them of the obvious business catchment merits of re-naming their excellent Exeter International Airport as "Devon International Airport" or "Devon International Gateway" or "Exeter Plymouth International Airport" (as per Leeds Bradford).
Retired Independent Regional Transport Analyst
(Former Member of the CAA Air Transport Users' Council)