Ken Skates, Minister for Economy and Transport
On Wednesday 3 April, Flybe announced it would be withdrawing a number of routes and closing its base at Cardiff Airport at the end of summer 2019, as a result of a decision to decrease its jet operations.
I am sure this will be very distressing news for the Flybe staff who are set to lose their jobs and my thoughts are with them and their families.
Since being purchased in 2013, Cardiff Airport has gone from strength to strength and has achieved a 60% increase in passenger numbers. The number of destinations has increased significantly, and the launch of a scheduled daily long-haul Qatar Airways flight to its Doha hub last year put Wales more firmly on the world stage.
Cardiff Airport is operated at arms-length to the Welsh Government and is responsible for the commercial activities and relationships with individual airlines. Flybe’s decision to reduce operations at Cardiff Airport was a commercial one made by the operator; the Welsh Government was not involved with the decision.
Even taking Flybe’s decision into account, other airline customers are continuing to demonstrate increasing confidence in the airport and its market, with TUI, Thomas Cook and Ryan Air in particular all adding capacity and introducing new routes this summer.
Flybe’s decision highlights once again the commercial pressures which regional airlines are under, especially from Air Passenger Duty (APD). In 2017 Flybe ceased the Cardiff to London City air route, citing APD as the key reason for the route’s failure. Last weeks news further strengthens our call on the UK Government to devolve APD to Wales in order to support the growth of regional airlines and regional connectivity. The UK Government’s decision not to devolve APD, which is based on deeply flawed economic analysis, needs to be seen alongside its decisions to block our attempt to establish a network of Public Service Obligation air routes to cities across the UK.
As we have said many times, we want the UK Government to stop seeing devolution of APD to Wales as a barrier and more as an opportunity, as they have done in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Devolution of APD would be a win for Cardiff Airport, for Wales and for the UK. Devolution will allow us to focus on our key Economic Action Plan goal of better connecting Wales with the rest of the UK and the wider world. As I said in my statement of the Williams Commission into Rail Devolution, the result of the decisions by the UK Department for Transport means Cardiff has the worst rail connectivity of any of the UK’s core cities. Devolution of APD would allow us to take control of our own destiny and improve this situation for ourselves.
I have also previously advised members that we are also looking to reverse the perverse decision of the UK Government to prevent us from creating a network of domestic air routes, aimed at better connecting Cardiff to other parts of the UK. This is now even more important than ever. We need to support our aviation links, and Flybe’s withdrawal from Cardiff only reinforces this point.
The UK Government has for too long distorted the market in favour of larger airports. Future devolution of APD would go some of the way to levelling the playing field, which has been skewed in favour of other large airports in England.
As we prepare to withdraw from the European Union, now is the time to act. We can not afford to wait for decisions about our future to be made for us. We need to take a proactive approach and we need the UK Government to support Wales, ensuring the whole of the UK is at its strongest at a time of such uncertainty.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.