FOUR months after agreeing to negotiate a new lease with the tenant of Swansea Airport council chiefs in Swansea now plan to end it – and may have to go to court to do so.
Cabinet met behind closed doors last week to consider a 77-page report on the management of the airport, which is owned by the council, and has decided that action was needed.
There has been growing dissatisfaction among users of the airport in recent months about the way they claimed it was being run and maintained. The tenant, Swansea Airport Ltd, claimed improvements were being made, and also announced plans on social media for passenger flights between Swansea and Exeter.
In January cabinet agreed to negotiate a new lease with Swansea Airport Ltd. Three weeks later the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) provisionally suspended the airport’s licence due to a “systemic failure of safety management”.
The council said it would reconsider its position, and has now done just that in the closed cabinet meeting.
In a statement it said: “A range of issues with the council’s tenant, Swansea Airport Ltd, have arisen over recent years.
“This has resulted in engagement with its tenant and other interested stakeholders in order to try to secure a viable and sustainable operation for the future.
“The issues at the airport escalated this year with the involvement of the Civil Aviation Authority who identified concerns with aspects of the tenant’s operations.
“As a consequence, the council has explored – and will continue to do so – all options for a viable and sustainable operation at the site.
“As part of that process, it was resolved at a cabinet meeting on May 30 to take steps towards legal action for the breaches of the tenant’s current obligations and to seek to end the Swansea Airport Ltd lease.
“In the absence of an appropriate agreement being reached with Swansea Airport Ltd, this legal process is likely to require court proceedings to achieve that outcome which, if successful, may take a period of time to conclude.”
The statement added: “In its dealings with the airport and reaching this cabinet decision, the council has at all times had the interests of all users of the airport, the wider community and health and safety considerations at the forefront of its strategy.”
The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the council would continue new lease negotiations with Swansea Airport Ltd if the CAA reinstated the operating licence by the autumn. Such a move would also be subject to conditions on the ground at the facility in Fairwood, Gower, and the extent of any breaches of the lease.
In the meantime the option to end the lease will be explored, and if the council decides it is time for new blood at the airport it is likely that an interim decision would be made seeking expressions of interest from current users for an interim tenant. The authority’s longer-term approach would be a more formal process to secure a permanent tenant.
Two groups which use the airport have put forward proposals to run it on a not-for-profit and commercial basis respectively. The council doesn’t want to take it on for cost and environmental reasons.
Swansea Airport Ltd acquired the lease from a predecessor around 20 years ago. The lease expired at the end of 2016 but has rolled over since then.
Swansea Airport Ltd director Roy Thomas said he would respond to the council’s statement and that he continued to work with the CAA and the Health and Safety Executive in a bid to have the licence reinstated.
He said: “I’m totally positive about taking the airport forward.” Mr Thomas said he expected the airport cafe to reopen at the end of July after a long period of closure. He had previously said it would re-open at the end of March.
He said other proposals for the loss-making site included log cabin accommodation for visitors and a cafe-bar with a wraparound veranda.
He added that longer term he intended to have a board of advisers with a view to them being director shareholders. “The airport’s future has to be aligned with leisure,” he said.
Flight schools and other training activities that don’t require a licensed facility can still operate despite the licence being suspended.
French flags are currently flying over the airport as filming takes place during the next four days for the movie Paris Has Fallen. Mr Thomas said the airport was closed to the public during this period.
A spokesman for Swansea Airport Stakeholders Alliance, one of the groups which wants to run the airport, said it welcomed cabinet’s latest decision due to the “potential benefits that this would bring for airport users and the community and county”.
He added: “For the last two years the alliance, while engaging with the council, has had in the back of its mind that the council might need assistance in the very short-term and has prepared and updated an interim recovery plan, which resides with the council.”