Published: 05:00, 29 April 2014
An urgent government review should be launched into cargo traffic in a bid to extend the life of Manston and free up passenger space at London's clogged-up airports.
That was the call from North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale in a speech at the House of Commons last night.
The backbencher addressed the House as talks were under way between airport owner Ann Gloag and potential buyers with funding to take over the struggling site.
A petition to save the airfield has already reached 15,000 signatures.
But, in a speech last night, the MP called for a review to be set up into whether passenger space at the major London airports, such as Heathrow and Gatwick, could be freed up by using Manston for cargo traffic.
He said he was aware that more than 80% of all goods transported by air through the main London airports came in on passenger flights.
But, he added: "That still leaves around 18% of dedicated freight movements occupying slots that could be used for much-needed additional long-haul passenger traffic if the cargo was moved to, for example, a Manston airport where we have a skilled and dedicated cargo handling team and facilities that can have goods off an aircraft and onto road or rail in short order."
He claimed it was in the national interest to instigate a review of cargo traffic with a view to releasing prime slots with passenger potential from London's airports.
He also asked for the airport to be reconsidered in Sir Howard Davies's review of airport over-capacity.
He said: "We are now served with a good road network and with the proposed extension of High Speed One from Ashford through to Thanet – a project that will commence in the autumn of this year with the upgrading of track and signals – we are looking at a realistic under-one-hour journey.
"In real terms, and allowing for check-in congestion and related time-wasting activities, that means that from Central London to a backside on a plane taking off Manston will actually be closer than Heathrow!"
But, in response, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill said the government would not intervene directly in the consultation on Manston Airport’s closure.
Despite insisting the government remains committed to improving airport capacity and efficiency in the UK, Mr Goodwill maintained a decision on its future lies with its owners.
Sir Roger was speaking on the day of the first meeting of the Manston Task Force, held in London.
Key stakeholders included Manston's operators, government representatives, the Skills Funding Agency, UK Trade and Industry, The Local Enterprise Partnership, Locate in Kent, Kent County Council, Thanet District, Thanet South MP Laura Sandys and Sir Roger.
Campaigning groups Save Manston and Why Not Manston had gathered 15,000 signatures in just three weeks, he said.
He added: "In the local and national interest we want to get Manston working and succeeding in the role for which it was designed and is best suited – as an airport.
"I hope and still believe that with a further shove and with the participation of a willing seller and a willing buyer we can get to where we want to be."
Sir Roger was speaking as airport owner Ann Gloag was said to be in talks with a potential buyer.
He told the House: "I was heartened, at a meeting with Mrs Gloag here at the House before Easter, to be assured that she was willing to discuss propositions and I naturally hope that discussions will prove fruitful in the interests of all concerned."
He said he had been working closely with Thanet South MP Laura Sandys to ensure the future of "one of the great assets of British aviation."
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