Strategic Meetings Summit London, 26 September,
September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
The takeover of Coventry, with its grand title of West Midlands International Airport, by TUI, the international leisure group (see below), is a fascinating step forward in the continued business war between the various purveyors of air transport. TUI owns the airline Thomsonfly, the airport”s major new tenant. Parallels could be drawn with the Ryanair situation at Charleroi and even British Airways involvement with Heathrow T5. How much is an airline dependent on an airport (or terminal) and where should the line be drawn with regard to the airlines” effect on the local community and businesses? With the exception of the Brymon/British Airways association at Plymouth Airport (which has produced virtually zero tangible results) no airline in the UK has actually become involved in the shareholding of an airport. Even here TUI”s purchase of Coventry would seem to indicate an arm”s length relationship with the airline operator, the new airport director, Bill Savage, an experienced airport man through and through (his name for long associated with Leeds Bradford) and not an airline person.
The history of CVT goes back a long way, established by Coventry Corporation in 1936. From that year up to the late 1950s, its principal function was as an airfield serving the aircraft manufacturing company, Armstrong Whitworth. Several thousand aircraft were constructed at Coventry between 1936 and the closure of the production facility in the early 1960s. Various passenger operations were tried with little success; the handling of air cargo became something of a speciality from the mid-1960s onwards. It was a busy airport, the aircraft of the time not noted for their quietness and interest in the environment. Today it is a major local employer and an important regional freight centre, the site of the largest parcel sorting hub in Europe.
As an airport Coventry lacked investment and by the middle of the 1990s it could only be described as rundown. Coventry City Council was saved any further embarrassment by the Airports Act, which required them to dispose of their shareholding to the private sector. After various other bidders fell away Air Atlantique (Atlantic Holdings Ltd), a long time tenant, acquired 100% of the airport in 1998. Under the enthusiastic chairmanship of Yorkshireman Mike Collett, a one-time professional pilot himself, Air Atlantique had established itself as one of the UK”s most forward thinking general aviation companies comprising of Atlantic Airlines, a cargo operator; Air Atlantique, operators of historic aircraft, Atlantic Reconnaissance, Atlantic Flight Training, various associated companies and in more recent times Atlantic Express with its fleet of small turboprops. They all continue to prosper.
Mike set about repairing the damage of past lack of investment in a wholehearted manner but as the twentieth century became the twenty-first it became clearer and clearer that for the future only the involvement of a major corporation, with all its resources, would bring the airport up to the standards required. In terms of safety there is no problem. The CAA is the guardian to ensure that the standards would be kept, but if the site were to prosper a need for the return to serious passengers flights was a requirement. Coventry Airport closed its existing passenger terminal and concentrated on plans for a new facility at Coventry Airport South, in an industrial area, well away from housing, easy access to the motorway network, and with plenty of land for buildings and parking. Probably an ideal spot. With an initial target of half a million passengers per year, 20 miles from Birmingham and 40 miles from East Midlands an active mainly holiday airport that will add competition to the marketplace. However we live in an age of lawyers, planners, do-gooders and minority interests. Nothing comes easy, and in a manner reminiscent to Heathrow T5, an existing facility, not even requiring a major expansion, got bogged down in paperwork.
The announcement just before Christmas that Thomsonfly would come to Coventry this summer ensured the predictable outburst by the local left wing Labour MP who was able to duck under his Parliamentary privilege when making statements that were clearly unsustainable and it could be argued, inflammatory. A noisy minority used their democratic rights to gain publicity in the local media; newspapers were pleased to take advertising for new services and at the same time gave exposure to comment that could only be described as rubbish. In the meantime Coventry Airport has pressed ahead with temporary accommodation that is within the planning restraints but could be argued less than satisfactory. Any complaints about the facilities this summer should not be addressed to the airport but to the local authority who, it would seem, is not acting in the interests of the vast majority. As our report shows (see below), would-be users of West Midlands International Airport are voting with their feet. The purchase offer by TUI has safeguarded both future investment in the airport and Air Atlantique's aspirations.
An interesting parallel can be drawn with London City Airport, which was also subjected to most abusive objections in the time leading up to its opening in 1987. And here don”t forget it was a green field site with no history of aircraft flying overhead. Take away the airport today and there would be uproar. It is proof that airports bring employment and prosperity and that an enlightened regime can work hand in hand with all the local interests to ensure a bright future. You will always get just a few who cannot be turned. Coventry Airport deserves to succeed. It will keep Birmingham and East Midlands, and their client airlines, on their toes, and that really is in the public interest. No doubt the local media will be queuing up to claim their places on the first flight! Role on 29 March and the start of Thomsonfly.