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Manston Airport plans need millions in investment and 20-year business plan, report by Falconry Consultancy for Thanet Council claims

By Paul Francis

Manston airport requires investment running into hundreds of millions of pounds if it is to succeed commercially, say consultants commissioned by Thanet Council to assess its viability.

The report, to be considered by the council this week, suggests that there could be a future for Manston on the basis of a 20-year plan setting out a phased development.

That development would see the site have different business activity in addition to passenger flights and cargo operations, based on the "Airport City" model pioneered by Schiphol airport in Holland.

Manston airport. Picture: Simon Burchett
Manston airport. Picture: Simon Burchett

The report by a company called Falconry Consultancy, comes as the American investment company RiverOak, which tried to buy the airport from owner Ann Gloag, put forward a detailed plan to work with the council as its partner in a Compulsory Purchase Order to acquire the Manston site.

The report states: "It is evident from the assessment that the airport will not be successful if it re-opens and an attempt is made to operate it in the same configuration as it had been previously."

It concludes that "insufficient work has been done to develop a visionary strategy and business plan for Manston."

At the same time, it suggests the airport, which closed in May, could be viable "on the basis of a 20-year business plan that sets out a phased development of the airport.

"The business plan would cover both operational facilities and commercial infrastructure.

The last KLM passenger flight leaving Manston airport in 2014. Picture: Tony Flashman
The last KLM passenger flight leaving Manston airport in 2014. Picture: Tony Flashman

"The Parkway Station and improved HS1 rail link are also critical."

However, it also cautions that building up the airport to be a commercial success would take decades with no guarantee of success: "No business plan with a credible investment plan of less than 20 years is likely to provide the commitment necessary to rebuild confidence.

"From an investor’s standpoint, the payback period might be as long as 50 years."

It recommends the airport remains closed for the time being: "There is no commercial justification for reopening and marketing the airport in the same configuration as it was upon closure.

"It should remain closed but arrangements put in hand for the low level maintenance of key facilities."

But it also says Manston could still play a part in meeting passenger demand in the South East in the short term before decisions are made about where extra runways are built.

The Manston airport site.
The Manston airport site.

Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale was damning, saying the report would give comfort to thsoe who wanted Manston to close permanently.

"From an investor’s standpoint, the payback period might be as long as 50 years" - consultant's report

He described it as “a recipe for delay and inaction".

He said: “It is not clear to me who the consultants spoke to or on what basis they have reached, in a matter of days, conclusions that seem to have been plucked out of the air.”

“Had they spoken to those of us who have studied Manston over a period of time and in some detail they might have reached rather different conclusions.

"As it is observations have been made that are in some cases factually flawed and appear designed to give comfort to those who want to kick Manston Airport into the long grass and deliver the housing and industrial estates that the present owner and some local politicians appear to want to achieve."

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