Published: 12:00, 19 March 2014
Scores of jobs are at risk at Manston Airport after it was announced today it could close.
Staff were called to a meeting today to be told new owners had decided the airport did not have a long-term future and was losing substantial sums of money on a daily basis.
As many as 150 jobs are at risk under the shock proposals amid rumours the site could be redeveloped for housing.
A Manston Airport spokesman said: "Following a meeting with staff at Manston Airport in Kent today we can confirm we have commenced a process of consultation over the possible orderly closure of the airport.
"No further comment will be made until the consultation period with staff has been concluded."
The news comes as a shock as there was speculation that under its new owner, the airport could have a future.
But a turnaround team commissioned to examine its prospects concluded its commercial success could not be guaranteed.
Sources said talks had been held with Ryanair about bringing new routes to Manston, but they had fallen through.
The airport was bought for £1 by Scottish businesswoman Ann Gloag, who established the Stagecoach Group, last year.
She brought in Alastair Welch to the board as a turnaround specialist.
Cllr Bob Bayford, opposition Conservative leader on Thanet council, said: "I feel very disappointed.
"I cannot help feeling that given there is so much pressure on the south east for more runways that it could have had a future. It is a pretty short period in which the new owners have come to the conclusion that it does not have a future." He added there were rumours that the site could be redeveloped for housing. "There has been speculation about that for some time," he said.
Thanet District Council leader Cllr Clive Hart said: "This is potentially a devastating blow to the local economy with the potential loss of direct and indirect employment in Thanet.
"The council has been clear that it has supported the future development of the airport.
"We have worked with operators to ensure that the economic benefits to the district could be maximised including the council's direct port of entry service and therefore this is very disappointing news."
Lydd Airport expressed surprise at the announcement today.
A spokesman said: "It is incredibly sad to hear of any airport in trouble, especially one in Kent.
"Of course the business model at Manston is very different to our own at Lydd and we remain very confident that our investment plans here will create a successful, modern regional airport capable of providing high quality air travel services to a wide catchment area in Kent, East Sussex and beyond."
Lydd Airport has been granted planning permission for a runway extension and a new terminal building. Construction work on the runway is expected to start later in the year.
Cllr Mark Dance (Con) KCC cabinet member for economic development, said: "We obviously regret today's announcement and the impact on jobs.
"We are working with the Department for Work and Pensions rapid response unit to ensure those affected get the support they need in finding new jobs.
"KCC has no plans to buy the airport, but continues to offer investment support via the Regional Growth Fund and Expansion East Kent for viable projects that create jobs.
"There are meetings to be had and discussions to hold but we will make every effort to find a viable alternative. One cannot discount someone coming in from wherever and from whatever angle with a bid to buy it."
Discovery Park in nearby Sandwich has more than 70 tenants which could have benefitted from Manston's links to the rest of the world via Schipol airport.
Managing director Paul Barber said: "We had high hopes. The KLM service to Schiphol was a great start.
"We hoped that if that was successful it would attract other airlines to use Manston in the same way Southend Airport has been turned around.
"We are very disappointed that it appears to be earmarked for closure.
"It is ironic really because with the rail links proposed, and the possibility of a new railway station near the airport, it is possible an airport at Manston could have been within an hour of St Pancras.
"If people from overseas could land at Manston and be in London within an hour, it would have made it a London airport.
"I'm sure that one day Manston would have been successful. The key thing now is to work out whether anything be done by government to give it support with loans to keep going until the demand for air travel picks up again."