England’s Manston Airport set to reopen for flights and cargo
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Thankfully, news of airports closing down is a rare occurrence, despite the challenges faced by increasing competition and capturing a slice of the passenger or cargo market.
However, for the historic Manston Airport south of London, closure was a reality and since May 2014 the site has been abandoned, awaiting approval for a very different future.
The plan had been to put housing and other development on the sprawling airport site; some had also hoped a small general aviation airfield might be carved out of what remained of the runway.
Now, in a major shift, the new owners of the airport have plans to restart flights and develop it once again as a center for aviation.
RiverOak Strategic Partners bought Manston — the one-time Battle of Britain and Cold War-era United States Air Force airfield near Canterbury — from previous owners Stone Hill Park, with the intention of restarting flights. Stone Hill had planned for up to 3,700 homes on the site, plus a “hi-tech employment space” and other amenities. The company has now withdrawn its application for the site and decided to sell following “considerable debate over the past five years of our ownership.”
There was a public outcry over the closure of the airport five years ago, and a recent planning application for 2,500 of the planned homes was rejected by the local council.
The sale to RiverOak was completed on July 9 for a reported £16.5 million following a protracted period of negotiations. It sees the transfer of 742 acres of the site to the new owners.
The company’s main intention is to develop Manston as a cargo hub, subject to planning and the new local plan. As one of the closest U.K. airports to mainland Europe, situated close to London and the busy English Channel ports at Dover and Felixstowe, it is ideally placed to develop in this market.
Manston also has one of the U.K.’s longest runways, making it ideal for handling the world’s largest freighter aircraft and long-haul cargo flights. Its development could also take some of the strain off Heathrow Airport which is at 99% capacity.
The reopening could attract a large company like Amazon who do not yet have an airport hub near London and could tailor the site to its needs.
Yet the big question on locals’ lips is whether passenger flights would return to Manston. Prior to closure the airport had seen a short-lived, low-cost operation and sporadic charter flights to leisure destinations. The final passenger service was operated by KLM to Amsterdam on April 9, 2014; the airline had served the airport twice-daily since 2012.
Despite its proximity to London and the affluent South East region of England, Manston never really reached its potential with passenger flights.
Nevertheless, Director Tony Freudmann said: "We bought it to turn it back into an airport and it means the development consent order process will continue." He added: "The current plan is to have the airport reopened in the spring of 2022 for short-haul and cargo flights. We have shown that it is financially viable."
While the small passenger terminal remains present and could easily be reactivated, it may take some considerable work by RiverOak to attract an operator to invest in flights from the airport.
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