Cardiff Airport CEO calls for UK government to provide targeted support to the industry

  • Watch ITV Cymru Wales' video report by Mike Griffiths

This time two years ago, Cardiff Airport was seeing thousands of passengers every day. Now, fifteen months into the pandemic as we emerge from lockdown, it’s just a handful of flights a week.

The airport’s Chief Executive Officer, Spencer Birns, says the aviation industry has been "massively hit" by the pandemic and he’d like to see the UK government "recognise" this by providing targeted support to the sector.

Speaking to ITV Wales’ Sharp End programme, Mr Birns, who took over as CEO in August 2020, said : “We were one of the first sectors to be going into lockdown and one of the last sectors to come out really. The Covid crisis globally has massively impacted everyone and naturally it has impacted us here in Wales too.

Cardiff Airport CEO calls for UK government to provide targeted support to the industry

“Domestic travel is not as big as it is in other markets such as America and China and places like that where they can see their domestic travel come back quicker," Mr Birns said.

“For us, our big business is actually to Europe so when the travel facilities to Europe open up again, we will expect to be able to help customers on those journeys and then as we’re going through that process, it will help us with our recovery pace.”

International travel resumed on May 17 but is now governed by a new traffic light system based on Covid risk.

Holidaymakers can travel to countries on the green list without having to quarantine when they return. But the list currently only has a small number of destinations.

The most popular holiday destinations such as Spain, France, Italy and Greece are on the Amber list. It is legal to travel to these countries but not for leisure. You will also have to self-isolate for ten days on your return. 

The government follows a traffic light system for international travel

Countries on the red list include Turkey, India, Brazil and South Africa. You should not be visiting these countries "except in the most extreme of circumstances." If you do visit one of these destinations, you must quarantine in a hotel for ten days when you return to the UK.

Mr Birns said: “From our side, having the glimmer of hope that people can start to travel again and have freedom to travel is what our business is all about so we’re looking forward to it. 

“The vaccination rates are rapidly increasing across Europe and we expect to see those traffic light systems really start to kick in where there will be alterations to that system.

“We put a pretty robust system in place last June before we opened to passenger travel last July again and we actually still have all those processes in place and ready again for the restart this time around."

Angela warns people that flying is going to be very different this year

But what can people expect if they’re flying this year?

Terminal Operations Manager, Angela Summers has warned that people need to understand that “flying is going to be very different to how it has been." 

“You will need to follow what the government and airline guidance is - that is crucial,” she said.

“Nobody wants somebody to miss out on their holiday because they don’t have the correct paperwork or if they haven’t had the correct Covid test. So it’s just crucial that people understand that flying is going to be different but we’ve accommodated it. 

Passengers will need to take a Covid test before boarding any flight. Ceri Mashlan, Director of Operations at Cardiff Airport explained that “customers need to understand the requirements to be able to travel abroad and to ensure that they have a negative test.”

There is a testing site at the airport which allows customers and members of the public to book a PCR test before they fly. 

Passengers will have to take a Covid test before flying

Gemma Cattle is the Security Manager at the airport. She said: “It’s been a challenging year but safety and security is always going to be our number one priority. There are a lot of changes that the staff have been preparing for over the last twelve months.

“Social distancing and all the measures required will be in place and we can’t wait for passengers to come back.”

Discussing the airport’s future, Mr Birns said: “Over the next couple of years, we’re going to start to see a solid recovery.

“We have the confidence that the people living in Wales, our customers want to travel from here ideally and they also want to travel to destinations which are cost effective and which are fun to go to and warm and safe. From that perspective, that’s where we’re focusing our attention on making sure that flights are available as much as possible." 

Mr Birns is hoping to see a 'solid recovery' over the next few years

On Wednesday, low-cost airline Wizz Air announced that they will be opening a new base at Cardiff Airport, operating nine new summer routes.

“The fact that Wizz Air are opening a base here in June is a major testament to our stepping stone in recovering our business”, said Spencer Birns. 

“Part of what we’ve needed to do is make sure we’ve got routes back on to destinations that were very, very popular in the past. The ‘Wizz Air’ base allows us to operate nine routes at really cost effective prices to those destinations.”

Despite the optimism for a long-term recovery, the Chief Executive Officer believes that more support is needed.

Cardiff Airport is owned by the Welsh government

He said: “In an ideal world, we’d like the UK government to provide targeted support to the aviation industry, particularly to airports. That is something that has not been forthcoming apart from furlough.

“We’re very lucky that the Welsh government is very supportive of the desires we have in Wales but ultimately we do need the UK government to recognise that our sector across the whole of the UK has been massively hit by this crisis.”

Discussing this issue in the House of Commons, David TC Davies, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales said:  “We haven’t taken up sector specific support because this UK government believes that we should be able to go out there and help all businesses that have been affected by this pandemic and that’s why we’ve already put out that £2.75 billion for Welsh businesses.”

The Welsh Government bought Cardiff Airport in 2013 for around £52m. In March 2021, they announced that they would write off £42.6m in Cardiff Airport debt, and provide another £42.6m in the form of a grant, to secure its long term future and recovery post-Covid.

The First Minister, Mark Drakeford has advised people not to travel abroad this year.