OUR JOURNEY SO FAR
Let's take a look at what we've done thus far:
Stage 1: 2012
It began in 2011 with the launch of the Viable campaign to save Plymouth Airport. In 2012 the campaign received over 38,000 signatures in support of keeping Plymouth Airport safeguarded as an aviation site.
Stage 2: 2015
By 2015 the conversation moved on from saving the airport to reopening the airport. Together with our supporters, we raised £21,521 and launched FlyPlymouth with intentions of acquiring and reopening Plymouth Airport.
The funding paid for the professional services required to develop our business plans and submit these to local and national government.
Those plans now form part of the evidence supporting the Joint Local Plan - the strategic planning framework for the development of Plymouth to 2034.
WHY IS 2018 SO IMPORTANT?
Stage 3: 2018
The airport is safeguarded for general aviation use by policies in the Joint Local Plan approved unanimously by Plymouth City Council, West Devon and South Hams and submitted to the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government. That Plan will undergo Examination early in 2018.
During the Examination in Public, a planning inspector will assess the the policies safeguarding the airport for soundness. FlyPlymouth’s plans will form part of the evidence on which this will be decided alongside the evidence of the City Council and their aviation consultants Arup.
We are confident, as is Plymouth City Council, that the Plymouth Plan has been properly created and is formed of sound policy based on good evidence. Therefore, we expect a favourable outcome.
However, we won't be sitting on our laurels: FlyPlymouth intends to participate in the Examination in Public and ensure that the case for aviation is well structured and supported by the best experts.
The Examination in Public is the hinge that Plymouth Airport rests on. If supported, the site must be valued as and operated as an airport. Without approval, Plymouth could lose its airport once and for all.
WHAT WILL A REOPENED AIRPORT LOOK LIKE?
Stages 4 and 5: 2018-2020
Once the Examination in Public is determined, we will be seeking to acquire Plymouth airport as an airport at a fair market valuation. The recent funding work will contribute towards the transaction costs for purchasing the airport.
FlyPlymouth’s plans to acquire and operate the airport for General Aviation (GA) are fully funded through private sector strategic partners and require no national or local government subsidy. And this can be achieved without relying on the return of the Navy’s FOST helicopter operations – although they will be very welcome.
The GA phase of our plans will see the airport relicensed and turning a good profit. But it will also prepare Plymouth airport for the return of passenger services at a later stage of the business.
Getting to the right value
Plymouth airport has been closed and for sale since 2011. The present leaseholder has hoped to secure a change of use for the site so that it could be sold on for housing development land. A transaction based on that value would make a future return to aviation impossible. If it had been for sale at a fair market value as an airport, things would have been very different. And that is why the airport has remained closed.
Fortunately, Plymouth City Council has listened to the people and businesses of Plymouth, reviewed the evidence and arrived at the conclusion that Plymouth airport should be safeguarded for aviation. This conclusion forms the basis of policies in the Joint Local Plan which safeguard the airport for future general aviation use.
The Joint Local Plan will undergo Examination in Public early in 2018 and if found to be sound, these policies will see the airport safeguarded.
As the airport is clearly an airport and capable of handling aircraft, proving this policy to be unsound is not going to be easy. General aviation - all aircraft except scheduled air services - is now recognised by the Government as providing £3bn to the UK and supporting 38,000 jobs across the country (see GA Strategy, Department for Transport, 2015). The UK’s network of smaller airports has been recognised as providing important regional connectivity and for being a national strategic asset. As a result, the Government has said that it’s vision is:
“.. of the UK being the best place in the world for GA [General Aviation] as a flourishing, wealth generating and job producing sector of the economy.”
Lastly, and very importantly, there is an airport operating company-in-waiting in Plymouth that seeks to acquire the site at a fair market value as an airport and return it to General Aviation use. And that is FlyPlymouth.
So one way or another, the drawn-out saga of Plymouth airport’s closure should come to a conclusion in 2018. And we believe that this will be a happy conclusion for the airport.
Protecting the Freehold
Nothing in this world is certain. And aviation has its share of challenges. So we need to ensure that the airport is not targeted for housing again in a few years’ time and good planning now can minimise the risk of this happening.
We believe that unless a reopened Plymouth airport is operated by a Plymouth-based company that is focussed on airport operations, the risk of a future closure remains. FlyPlymouth’s unique selling point is that it is a Plymouth-based and focussed on aviation.
Should we be successful in acquiring Plymouth airport, we favour seeing the airport’s freehold transferred into a Trust designed to safeguard the airport for the future. Many UK strategic transport assets are owned by Trusts.
FlyPlymouth proposes a Community Benefit Trust in which the people of Plymouth and its subregion can purchase shares and so own a piece of the airport. This means that the owners of the airport would be you and people like you.
This Trust will then lease the airport to an airport operator - hopefully ourselves - which will be free to operate commercially without the distraction or temptation of the underlying land values.
Too many UK airports reward operators for failure by representing lucrative development opportunities. We need to make sure that a future Plymouth airport offers rewards only for successful airport activities.
The first step towards the reintroduction of aviation services at a reopened Plymouth airport will be what is known as General Aviation (GA). GA includes all aviation activities other than scheduled passenger air services and includes private and chartered business aircraft, air taxis, VIP movements, light aircraft and pilot training and a range of helicopters including military, Police, Search and Rescue (SAR), air ambulance, light freight for local business, transplant organ movements among others. Plymouth was historically a busy GA airport and there is good future business to be had from aircraft movements, parking, hangarage and fuel sales.
This activity will sit alongside the hosting of fixed base operators (FBOs) that may include aviation engineering and aircraft operators. It will also allow Plymouth airport to build up its aviation support services including rescue and fire-fighting (RFFS) and air traffic services (ATS). In turn a relicensing of the site will prepare the way for the reintroduction of passenger services at a later stage.
Most importantly, FlyPlymouth’s plans for GA are fully privately-funded and require zero subsidy from either local authority or national Government.
This phase of the plan is in-line with Government policy, with local planning policy and we believe will support many of Plymouth’s economic, employment, skills and training and social enterprise objectives. Plymouth airport really will help deliver the objective of becoming a vibrant European waterfront city.
A greater economic growth and employment contribution to Plymouth and the sub region will be delivered with the reintroduction of passenger services at a future stage. The return of passenger services will not happen until Plymouth airport is financially stable, has ramped up its business volumes and aviation services and been relicensed.
We believe that there are good opportunities for Plymouth to develop its strategic connectivity in time but for now, we are fully focussed on the general and business aviation opportunities and ensuring that these are restored and built out to sustainable levels.
Plymouth airport is a perfectly satisfactory and fit-for-purpose piece of strategic transport infrastructure that is unique and irreplaceable. And it is something Plymouth should hold on to.
By definition, the future goes beyond the scope of our present plans for Plymouth airport. But there are a number of developments and possibilities that are likely or possible over the next fifteen years that add strength to the arguments for safeguarding and reopening the airport today.
Firstly, it seems clear now that there will be a new runway in the South East built over the next ten years. The Davies Commission has required that new runway capacity must provide for the regions which have largely become disconnected from Gatwick and Heathrow. Heathrow Airport and the National Connectivity Transport as well as the British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG) have said that the government should actively support airports such as Plymouth reconnect via this new capacity.
Second, the role of Heathrow as the UK’s only international hub airport is gradually being shared with emerging hubs such as Manchester and Dublin. Both of these are well within Plymouth’s range and represent key gateways to the US and Asia.
Third, in time it will be possible to make modest extensions to the eastern end of the airport site to lengthen the runway and safety areas. This will allow slightly larger aircraft with heavier payloads depart safely from Plymouth to key European destinations including major hubs for onward long haul international connections. An extension of that kind is well understood and would be potentially transformational for Plymouth sealing its future in aviation. But it would be entirely dependent on commercial considerations at the time and is not necessary for Plymouth today.
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