Published: 12:54, 10 July 2020
| Updated: 14:39, 10 July 2020
Passenger flights run by low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet will eventually operate from Manston, bosses have confirmed.
And in what will be welcome news to those wanting air travel on their doorstep, Manston owner RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) has now confirmed commercial flights will start running after the cargo operations begin, possibly as soon as 2024.
Tony Freudmann, director of RSP, says these flights will be a small operation catering for between one million to 1.5 million passengers a year.
"We'll have a passenger terminal which will support the low-cost operators, people like Ryan Air and EasyJet," he said.
"We'll be doing the cargo traffic from 2023 and it may be that passengers will follow on a year or two years later.
"We may have to push that back a bit because of Covid-19 and the impact that's had and while the passenger side gets itself back together again.
"But it's definitely the plan.
"We've had discussions and the position of the low-cost carriers is once things are back to normal they've got new aircraft being delivered and they need to get those aeroplanes in the sky - and there's a limit on the number of slots either at Gatwick or Stansted."
Mr Freudmann insists there will be no night flights - which had been a huge concern for some residents and the focus of a long-running campaign into the future of Manston.
"The Development Consent Order (DCO) granted by the government has a prohibition on night flights," he said.
"The only night flights there will be is if your flight from Malaga back to Thanet gets delayed because there's a thunderstorm or something.
"So it might not get back to Manston until midnight or 1am, that will be allowed to land - but there won't be any scheduled departures or scheduled arrivals after 11pm."
Work looks set to start at the site next summer, starting with the levelling out of the taxiways, which will involve removing hundreds of cubic metres of earth.
During construction, some 600 people will be employed, but Mr Freudmann says the overall figure of employment through the airport will reach the thousands.
By its 20th year of operation, he says he expects it to have created more than 23,000 jobs across east Kent.
"We think there could be about 600 construction jobs from next summer onwards for two years," he said.
"Once built, Manston will be one of the most modern, efficient and environmentally-friendly freight hubs in the world..."
"After that, as far as the airport itself is concerned, we're expecting to start at around 1,500 jobs, working up to 5,000 or 6,000. "Airports employ a lot of people.
"They will be at all levels, so basic ground handlers, baggage handlers, warehouse people, security, firefighters, air traffic control, managers, sales people - right across the board."
As part of the plans, RSP is also looking at creating an on-site training facility.
"We've been working with Canterbury Christ Church, East Kent College and the Local Enterprise Partnership to put together a training programme because we've got to train our own people," he said.
"It's important that people in Thanet can look to the airport for a career because there is a skills shortage down here at the moment and we aim to replace that.
"We've taken as our example what they've done at Stansted where they have created a college for local youngsters which is working very well, it's on their airport and an offshoot of Harlow College in Essex.
"We want to replicate that at Manston and build a training college."
Due to the site being temporarily set aside for Operation Brock - a scheme where lorries will be parked at Manston should Brexit cause delays at the Channel crossings - construction will not start until next year.
But Mr Freudmann says this gives the firm time to carry out preparatory work.
"It's also not just the construction work that takes time," he added.
"We've got to get the aerodrome certification from the Civil Aviation Authority which involves approving all the procedures on the airport, from security to firefighting to air traffic control.
"We've got to go through that process and also go through the airspace change process where Manston is allocated it's own airspace.
"Those are all processes that will move in parallel and hopefully by about April 2023 we'll be open for business, we'll be certified and we'll have the space."
On site there will be a huge cargo shed of around 700,000sq feet - twice the size of a big supermarket - which will be for inbound and outbound cargo, as well as a passenger terminal catering for upwards of a million passengers a year.
So far the project has cost some £38 million, including the purchase of the site and the DCO, but the overall construction is expected to reach £300 million.
Funding will come from private investment.
"It's important to say it's all private sector money," said Mr Freudmann. "So we're not looking to the government for any public money."
He added: "Once built, Manston will be one of the most modern, efficient and environmentally-friendly freight hubs in the world, able to cater for traditional freight as well as the rapidly expanding international e-commerce sector that the UK has so heavily relied upon during the period of lockdown.
"After two years of detailed scrutiny of our plans by the Planning Inspectorate and Department for Transport, it is wonderful to have government support.
"We can now focus on investing in Thanet and east Kent, creating jobs, and inspiring new generations through our active support for training, education and careers advice for all age groups."