Gales View - 21st November 2012

Starting on April 2nd  next year KLM Royal Dutch Airline will be flying twice-daily from Manston to Schiphol, one of Europe`s premier airports.
 
KLM is not a two-bit operation. A national “flag-carrier”, it is, with its partner Air France, one of the world`s significant aviation groupings, ranking alongside The Star Alliance and One World (British Airways).  KLM know their business. They have not taken the decision to open this new route lightly and they are not in it for fun.  They have done their homework meticulously, they have seen an opportunity and they have seized it.
 
For Manston International Airport and for East Kent this is a very significant investment.  It will create jobs, it will give the airport the credibility that Manston deserves and it is likely that others will follow where KLM has taken a lead.  Given Kent County Council`s determination to improve the rail link between Ashford and Thanet and to allow Thanet to enjoy the benefit of genuine High-Speed rail travel rather than the half-hearted venture that is at present on offer there is no reason why Manston should not now take off.
 
I believe that KLM have seen the weakness in the UK Market.  They have looked seriously at the lack of adequate runway capacity in the South East of England, they have looked at high Air Passenger Duties, they have looked at real journey times to London`s airports and they have looked at the lengthy check-in times demanded of a passenger seeking to catch a plane from Heathrow or Gatwick. And they have concluded, rightly, that to offer a quick, easy to access, service between East Kent and, via Schiphol with its four runways, to all of the world`s major destinations is likely to prove highly attractive to business travellers and discerning holidaymakers.
 
I have been saying, for a long time now, that we are going to lose business to the major airports of mainland Europe and that this is an immediate threat not just to our supremacy as Europe`s number-one interlining airport but also to all of the tourism and commerce that that position has allowed us to enjoy.
 
Mayor Boris Johnson and those advising him have, I fear, become so obsessed with his vision of an estuary airport and consequent opposition to expansion at Heathrow that they have failed to see that the threat – exemplified by KLMs most welcome (from an East Kent perspective) commitment to Manston  - is real and immediate.  Johnson`s attitude, expressed to me personally and in terms, is that “Manston is too far from London”.  He is making precisely the same mistake that was made by Alastair Darling as Labour`s Transport Secretary before he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. And to a significant extent that is why we now face the current situation.
 
We cannot afford to wait for the vanity project that is “Boris Island” and nor can we wait for a third runway at Heathrow, a second runway at Gatwick or the expansion of Stansted.  Each of those options will take an absolute minimum of ten years and more probably fifteen or twenty years to bring to fruition. In order to protect our position, if it is not already too late, we have the use all of the assets that are immediately available to us – and that means Manston.  If UK aviation is to survive as anything other than a bit-part player then we have to stimulate the transfer of business from Gatwick to Manston to free  up space that can then relieve the pressure on capacity at Heathrow while long-term solutions are generated..
 
If we do not do this then, as seaport traffic has shifted its base from London Docklands to “London Rotterdam”, so we shall see air traffic re-locating to “London Schiphol” or “London Frankfurt” or “London Charles de Gaulle”.  While the UK Government, London`s Local Authority and the Civil Servants serving both   have  been choosing to ignore the need for interlining capacity in Europe for the last fifteen years others have woken up, smelled the coffee and taken action. We are in very grave danger of missing the flight.

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